Anaheim, check. San Jose, check. Get ready Detroit, you're next on the Dallas Stars playoff hit list.
Captain Brenden Morrow scored 9:03 into the fourth overtime, and Marty Turco made a career-high 61 saves to send the Stars to the Western Conference finals with a dramatic 2-1 win over San Jose in Game 6 of the Western Conference semifinals on Sunday night at American Airlines Center. Dallas took the best-of-seven series 4-2 to advance to the conference finals for the first time since 2000.
Antti Miettinen also scored for the Stars, who will be making their fourth conference finals appearance since 1998 after playing until nearly 1:30 Monday morning.
"It's a heckuva feeling," Morrow said. "The word to describe it is belief. We have a lot of character and finished it off tonight."
With San Jose defenseman Brian Campbell in the penalty box after tripping Loui Eriksson, Morrow made sure the series wasn't going back to San Jose for a Game 7. Standing in the slot, the gritty forward redirected Stephane Robidas' pass from the right circle past Sharks goalie Evgeni Nabokov.
"That's vintage Brenden, with the short tap-in," Turco said. "He is just a warrior, and that's an understatement. We are so fortunate to have him on this team."
It was Morrow's seventh goal of the postseason, and second overtime winner in the series. In the third-longest game in franchise history, Morrow practically willed his team to win when it seemed the Sharks were primed to pull out another come from behind win. The eight-year forward logged an amazing 51 minutes of ice time, and has made a solid case for himself as a legitimate playoff MVP candidate.
"They have the IV's ready for us right now," he said.
But Morrow's heroics would never have been without the stellar goaltending of Turco, who made 22 saves over the final 40 minutes of regulation when the Sharks had the Stars on their heels. He then added 31 more in the 69 minutes of overtime, with many being of the incredible variety.
"Marty stole this one for us and we all were rewarded," Morrow said.
Morrow helped give the Stars some momentum heading into the extra session, delivering a devastating check on San Jose forward Milan Michalek in the Dallas zone in the waning seconds of the third period. Michalek stayed on the ice for almost five minutes as the period expired, and needed assistance to get off the ice.
The blow was a jolt of energy for the Stars, who were unraveling up to that point. They promptly came out and peppered Nabokov with 18 shots in the first overtime, but were unable to solve the Russian netminder, who finished with 53 saves.
"We knew if we got a chance we'd have to move it around and get them out of position," said center Mike Modano, who garnered an assist on Miettinen's goal. "Something has clicked for us, and we are just getting the feeling that things are going well."
"Our whole team's effort is just phenomenal right now," coach Dave Tippett said. "We told the guys before the game that we needed 5-10 percent more, and I felt strange telling Brenden to give us more because he had a series like I've never seen before."
Both clubs thought they had the game won in the first overtime, but Nabokov and Turco weren't ready to go home.
Nabokov began the goaltending clinic when he robbed Brad Richards early in the extra session. Nabokov miraculously saved the Sharks season for the time being by gloving Richards' attempt from the bottom of the left circle, diving to his left to deny the attempt. The save was upheld after a brief video replay to see if Nabokov indeed nabbed the puck before it crossed the goal line.
With eight minutes left, it was Turco's turn to make a game-saver. Turco lunged to his right to make a sparkling pad stop on Patrick Marleau, and then thwarted Marleau's rebound attempt that certainly would have went into the net.
Late in the first overtime, Nabokov was at it again when he denied Mike Ribeiro's chance despite Ribeiro losing control of the puck after he went in alone. Undaunted, Ribeiro had another golden opportunity with 46 seconds left to end the contest, but his blast from the right circle rang off the crossbar.
"I'm not tired!" a jubilant Turco said. "We've had some long ones before, and it's nice to be on the winning side of this. I just kept thinking about how badly we wanted this. We just kept hydrating and staying positive. We believe, and we are going to enjoy this for a few hours and move on."
Up by a goal heading into the final 20 minutes of regulation time, the Stars blew a third-period lead for the second straight game when Ryane Clowe scored early in the frame. But unlike their Game 5 overtime loss when a two-goal edge slipped away, the Stars were able to find a way to secure the win thanks to their emotional leader Morrow.
"I was pretty ticked off about Game 5," he said. "So it was nice to get that one and close them out."
Clowe tied the game at 1 to send it to overtime just 1:39 into the third with his fifth of the playoffs. He let go a wrist shot from the right circle that eluded Turco, who was screened on the play by Sharks forward Tomas Plihal.
Miettinen made up for his turnover on Joe Pavelski's overtime winner in Game 5 when he scored his first goal of the postseason at 4:49 of the second to give the Stars a 1-0 lead. Miettinen gobbled up a juicy rebound after Nabokov stopped Sergei Zubov's slap shot from the right point.
For the third straight game the first period ended in a scoreless tie. The Stars, though, dominated and had plenty of chances, including a pair by Ribeiro and Richards.
Six minutes into the game Ribeiro had a gaping net to put the puck in after Jere Lehtinen's feed, but San Jose defenseman Craig Rivet clipped Ribeiro in the face with a high stick, causing the Dallas center to miss the puck.
Richards also had a glorious chance from in tight, but was unable to get the puck past Nabokov.
The top-seeded Red Wings will have home-ice advantage in the upcoming series, but that won't matter much to these resilient Stars. Both the Ducks and Sharks were seeded higher than Dallas coming into their playoff series, but both were beaten down by a Stars club that has won using a simple formula -- timely goals coupled with spectacular goaltending by Turco.
It's a recipe that helped them defeat the stubborn Sharks, and it's a prescription they hope to fill again against the rival Red Wings.
"We are moving a step forward and there are eight more wins to go," Robidas said.
--The Stars are now 1-2 in games that last at least four overtimes.
--Forward Stu Barnes missed his third straight game, and is still recovering from a hit in Game 3 by Jonathan Cheechoo. Defenseman Mark Fistric was re-inserted into the lineup after being scratched in Game 5. Fistric replaced fellow rookie blueliner Matt Niskanen, who missed his first game of the playoffs.
--The game was delayed for about five minutes early in the first period when the glass in the right corner where the Ice Girls congregate was knocked out of its stanchions after Joel Lundqvist crashed into San Jose defenseman Douglas Murray.
--Zubov has points in four of the five games he's played this postseason. He also moved into sole possession of third place on the team's all-time playoff games played list, passing Richard Matvichuk.
--Modano now has 10 points in 12 playoff games this spring.
-It was the fourth overtime game of the series. The last time Dallas played four overtimes in a playoff round was in 2001 in the Western Conference quarterfinals against Edmonton. The Stars won that series in six games.
--Zubov led the Stars with 53:50 of ice time.
--It was the only game in the series in which the winning team scored first.
--Dallas improved to 15-6 at home against opponent's facing elimination.
--The Sharks were award a power play in the third overtime but failed to capitalize.
--Also scratched for Dallas were defensemen Philippe Boucher (lower body), Krystofer Barch, and Brad Winchester.