DALLAS - In the end, the hole they’d dug was just too deep to climb out of.
Already just the 13th club out of 156 in NHL history to force a Game 6 after trailing a playoff series 3-0, the Stars couldn’t complete the miraculous comeback, falling 4-1 to the Detroit Red Wings Monday night at the American Airlines Center.
The Red Wings clinched the best-of-seven Western Conference Finals four-games-to-two and ended the Stars’ longest and most impressive post-season showing since 2000. Detroit will advance on to the Stanley Cup Finals against Pittsburgh starting next Saturday.
Playing their 100th game of the 2007-08 season, the Stars were unable to keep the magic going that enabled them to win Game 4 and 5 after dropping the first three. They got down early, trailing 3-0 after one period, and things just snowballed against them from there.
“I think they had a real hard focus around our net early,” Stars coach Dave Tippett said. “The first three goals, right at the crease and in. Once you get trailing, you’re chasing the game. That’s where we were, chasing the game most of the game.”
“If we played better in the first games it would have been different, we just started too late,”said center Mike Ribeiro, who led the Stars with 17 playoff points. “Could’ve, would’ve, should’ve.”
Stephane Robidas contributed the Stars’ only goal, his third of the playoffs, while goaltender Marty Turco, who sparkled in the Game 4 and 5 triumphs, did not get a whole lot of defensive help early on, but still made 25 saves.
“This is as tough as any (loss) as I’ve experienced,” Turco said. “It was a tremendous feeling and opportunity to watch this team grow and accomplish what we have. The first thing that comes to mind is the things we could have done and the things that we can do as a team. I can’t say that I’ve seen a bigger learning experience from a team in the last couple of months. It’s probably the reason why it’s the hardest to swallow. It’s really disappointing when you come up short and you know things could have been a lot different.”
“We didn’t want to have any regrets,” said captain Brenden Morrow, who led the Stars with nine post-season goals. “We went out and played a heck of a third period. We just started a little late tonight. For whatever reason they carried the play. I don’t think our jump, our urgency, was really there until the third period. We got one early and got a penalty and created some momentum for ourselves but we just didn’t find those next couple ones.”
Going into the third down by four, the Stars responded with an inspired performance in their final period of the season, outshooting the Wings 16-7 and generating numerous scoring chances in a last-ditch comeback attempt.
On their seventh power play of the night, just 30 seconds after Turco made a huge save on Valtteri Filppula, Dallas broke through and snapped Detroit netminder Chris Osgood’s shutout bid. Robidas connected for his second goal of the series at 2:27, blasting a one-timer from the high slot after receiving a slick pass from Ribeiro in the right corner.
With the building coming alive again, the Stars pressed on, with Loui Eriksson having a point-blank chance off the right post denied by Osgood. Seconds later, on the Detroit counter-attack, what started as a 2-on-0 breakaway for Mikael Samuelsson, ended up as a missed opportunity because of impressively dogged back-checking by rookie defenseman Matt Niskanen.
After Turco made another big save on Darren McCarty’s one-timer from the top of the right face-off circle with 5:20 left, the Stars pushed back. Seconds later, Ribeiro ripped a slap shot from the left face-off circle on a partial breakaway, but Osgood made the stop.
Dallas generated two more prime chances in the next minute, coming agonizingly close to getting back into it. Just 34 seconds later, Niklas Hagman fed a pass out of the right corner to a Trevor Daley cutting into the slot, but Osgood made a huge save on Daley’s resulting one-timer, and again on Steve Ott’s rebound attempt.
Then 26 seconds after that, Hagman found himself skating in on a breakaway, but was unable to slip a shot through Osgood.
Tippett pulled Turco for an extra attacker with 2:35 remaining, but while the Stars had plenty of chances, were unable to solve Osgood again. Their best late opportunity came from captain Brenden Morrow with 46 seconds left, but Osgood stopped his one-timer from the top of the circles.
The classy American Airlines Center fans saluted their heroes with a nice ovation at the final buzzer and again throughout the end-of-series handshake. Quite a few even stuck around to watch NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly present the Clarence S. Campbell Bowl, emblematic of Western Conference playoff champions, to Red Wings captain Nicklas Lidstrom.
“I think we’re all pretty disappointed still,” Morrow said, not yet wanting to reflect on their overall outstanding season. “We did come a long way this year. This wasn’t our ultimate goal. We did make some progress. We know how much work we put into it and I think all of us are willing to do it again. We’re going to let this set in. It’s going to make us hungrier and we’re going to come back stronger next year. There’s not much quit in us. A lot of good work was done.”
Detroit jumped out of the gates on fire and basically won this one in the first period, outscoring the Stars 3-0 and outshooting them 13-6.
The Red Wings quieted the raucous sellout crowd of 18,584 early when they managed to do what Dallas had done in the last two contests - score first. As Dallas Drake carried into the left corner, he threw the puck out front where it bounced off the charging Kris Draper and squeezed past Turco’s glove before falling into the net just 3:45 in.
The play was reviewed by the video goal judge to determine where it hit him, as it would be illegal if it went off Drake’s hand or his stick above the crossbar, but replays showed that it actually ricocheted off his chin before it went in, which is legal.
The Stars began to counter-attack and had their best early opportunity on a 2-on-1 rush 8:30 into the period, with Brad Richards feeding Daley in the right circle. Daley, who scored in Game 5, fired a wrist shot, but Osgood made the save.
A couple of minutes later, Daley ended up in the penalty box for hooking and Detroit capitalized. Seconds after Turco made a huge save on Henrik Zetterberg’s point-blank shot, Lidstrom boomed a slap shot from just inside the blue line that hit Stars defenseman Nicklas Grossman’s skate and sat loose for a moment in front. Pavel Datsyuk then swept in and popped it up and over a prone Turco at 11:41.
The Red Wings then extended the lead to three with 3:43 to go in the period, as Drake scored his first of the playoffs from in front. Detroit defenseman Brett Lebda carried it into the right corner and backhanded a pass in front, where Drake poked it through Turco’s pads and in.
Heading into the second period down 3-0, the Stars had an early power play with a chance to climb back into it, but instead Zetterberg struck for a short-handed goal, his second of the series. Zetterberg intercepted a pass from Morrow at the Detroit blue line and sped off on a breakaway, making a nifty deke to his forehand before firing it past Turco for the 4-0 lead at 3:11.
On another power play later in the period, the Stars came close to snapping the goose egg, as Niskanen’s slap shot from the blue line was deflected in front by Toby Petersen, but Osgood made the save.
With 2:45 left in the second period and the Stars enjoying their sixth power play of the game, Dallas almost got one in when Robidas’ shot from the point was re-directed in front by Morrow, but slid just wide of the goalpost.
So now it’s the off-season for the Stars, but it begins considerably later than most people expected when the post-season began.
“Definitely proud of this team,” Tippett said. “We’re in a situation where nobody gave us a chance right from the get-go. People don’t realize how hard it is to win. The teams that we beat, and we lost to a great hockey team, but when you see behind the scenes the energy and the sweat and the commitment from those players, you’re seeing guys with welts all over their body, and they can’t wait to get on the ice the next day.
“Winning is hard, but it’s the most gratifying thing you can do in our game. And winning in the playoffs, there’s nothing like it. I’m very proud of the effort. I mean, the commitment from our whole group was phenomenal. It’s frustrating losing, it’s disappointing losing. I can honestly look at those guys, start with Brenden Morrow. They left everything they had on the ice, everything.”
As is usually the case after a long playoff run, it was revealed afterwards that several players were fighting through significant injuries and still contributing on the ice. Tippett noted a few of them.
“Brenden hasn’t been the same since the last San Jose game,” Tippett reported. “He’s basically played on one leg since then. The shoulder injury (suffered in Game 3 of this series), I’m not sure where that’s going to get to, but there’s a small tear in his shoulder. Norstrom has been battling a sports hernia for the whole playoffs. It’s phenomenal he can get through that.
“That’s the grind of the playoffs. It is so hard. Like I say, the commitment that these players put forth is just phenomenal. Until you’ve been in that dressing room, seeing guys that after a game, they have a hard time moving their leg or moving their elbow, their shoulder doesn’t work, and the next day they show up and say, ‘When do we play again?’ That’s what makes our game great.”
- Robidas’ goal was his second of the series and his 11th point of the post-season, leaving him third among NHL defensemen in that category.
- Ribeiro’s assist was his third of the series and 14th of the playoffs, second only to Pittsburgh star Sidney Crosby in the league.
- Richards’ assist gave him points in four straight games (one goal, three assists) and was his 12th of the playoffs.
- Daley led the Stars in shots on goal for the evening with four.
- Joel Lundqvist delivered seven bodychecks, more than any other player in the game, while Robidas was second with five.
- Once again, the Stars were without winger Jere Lehtinen (leg), forward Stu Barnes (concussion-like symptoms) and defenseman Philippe Boucher (hip strain), while Mark Fistric also missed his third straight contest with mono. The Red Wings were again missing leading goal-scorer Johan Franzen (concussion-like symptoms).
- Dallas was 1-for-7 on the power play and finished the series just 3-for-30 (9.1 percent), leaving them a net of one, since they also allowed two short-handers. This was after collecting 15 extra-man goals on 60 opportunities (25 percent) in the first two rounds of the playoffs.
- After surrendering three power play goals in Game 1 and another one on the Red Wings’ first opportunity in Game 2, the Stars’ penalty killers nullified 16 of the last 18 Detroit advantages.
- Coming into tonight, with his team facing elimination over the past three years, Turco was 5-2 with a 1.09 goals-against-average and a .960 save percentage, with one shutout.
- Out of the 155 other series in NHL history where a team went down three-games-to-none: 100 times the team was swept, 43 times the team lost in five (including Philadelphia in the Eastern Conference Finals), seven times they were defeated in Game 6, three times they lost in seven and twice they won in Game 7. The two series wins came in the 1942 Stanley Cup Finals when Toronto came back against Detroit and in 1975 when the New York Islanders came back in the second round versus Pittsburgh.
- This series marked the 16th time in franchise history that the Stars trailed a best-of-seven series three-games-to-two. In the 15 prior series, they lost in Game 6 eight times, four times they lost in Game 7 and three times they rallied to win the series in seven games. The series wins came in the 1999 Conference Finals vs. Colorado on their way to the Cup, the ‘80 Quarterfinals vs. Montreal, and the ‘68 Quarterfinals vs. Los Angeles.