DALLAS - Give the man credit, he certainly has a flair for the dramatic.
On a night when he possibly played his final game in front of the home fans at the American Airlines Center, center Mike Modano came through with a virtuoso performance. He scored the tying goal with 1:47 remaining in regulation, added an assist, then scored the deciding goal in the shootout to lead the Dallas Stars to a thrilling 3-2 victory over the Anaheim Ducks Thursday night.
Longtime teammates Jere Lehtinen and Marty Turco, who also may have just played their final home game, each delivered with the spotlight shining on them as well.
Turco made 17 saves in regulation, then denied both Duck shooters in the shootout, while Lehtinen contributed an assist during the game and then clinched the victory in the shootout when he rifled a scorching snap shot over Anaheim netminder Jonas Hiller’s shoulder.
“I really didn’t have any idea what to expect or how it would play out, but it was a nice ending, how it unfolded,” said Modano, who is leaning towards retirement. “We had our opportunities all night, our line, so it was a nice way to possibly end it.”
It was an emotional evening for the man who has been the face of the franchise since it arrived in the middle of football country back in 1993. There were several standing ovations for him from the raucous crowd of 18,009, but none more special than the one he received with 5:28 remaining, when the players on both benches stood up and applauded as well and the next face-off was delayed several minutes.
Yes, Modano shed a few tears, and why not? As he completes his 17th year in Dallas and 22nd with the franchise, Modano, who turns 40 on June 7, is one of the people primarily responsible for putting hockey on the map in North Texas and was a key contributor to the 1999 Stanley Cup squad. He has basically grown up here along with the sport.
“There were moments as the night went on, it built, and as the day progressed, it was getting a little tougher to realize that it could have been it,” said Modano, who sits 23rd in NHL history with 1,359 career points. “Showing the highlights from the Cup win kind of hit, that started it all, then the last timeout, the fans were fantastic. It’s been a great relationship I’ve had with them, I can’t say enough about them. I didn’t expect the reception and the ovations throughout the night like that. It certainly felt like the end, but I might come down with Favre-itis. ”
“It’s something that you just can’t script,” Turco said of Modano’s night. “You don’t know how it’s going to go, but when you’re talking about one guy and a career with one organization - with Mike’s stature, I mean you could argue it’s unparalleled really. For the franchise to make a move like it did when it came to Dallas, to need that type of star power, to utilize him in the community, and to have him play as well as he did and turn around and win a Cup, and to be the go-to-guy - there’s nothing that the man hasn’t done for this organization.”
He hasn’t yet made a decision, but after skating in just his fourth game back after missing nine due to an emergency appendectomy, Modano sounds like a man who is tiring of the physical grind and mental frustration of missing the playoffs for the second year in a row, the first time he’s had to deal with that in his illustrious career.
“If I was to say today, it probably would be (the end),” Modano said, “but like I’ve been saying, it would be a decision probably made out of a lot of frustration and disappointment in how we played and how we performed. But then again, you sit around for three or four months and not do anything all summer, then you kind of get that urge of what you’re going to do and what the fall’s going to be and start to think about training and getting ready. Then again, I don’t have a contract, so that’s another situation that would have to be resolved. So it’s hard to say now.”
With lots of ‘One Mo Year’ signs dotting the American Airlines Center, and based on the reaction of the 18,009 in attendance, the Dallas fans aren’t quite ready to let him go. And having a performance like this makes him wonder if it really is time to quit.
“It was tough to leave the ice there, not knowing what the future holds, if that was it or if it wasn’t,” said Modano, who skated in his 1,458th career regular season contest to move into sole possession of 18th on the NHL’s all-time games-played list. “You have nights like that, you think you can keep going and can play well and things go well for you like that, and you finally score on your first shootout of the year, I don’t know if there was fate there, but when you have nights like that, it makes you ponder that decision a little longer.”
Modano was also happy for the night his longtime linemate Lehtinen had, and the way he finished off the storybook ending.
“I kind of gave him the look once I scored, I said, ‘You can’t let us down now,’” Modano said. “It’s been a great pair, a tandem that we’ve had, our relationship on and off the ice. The ultimate player. I’ve never seen anything like it, routine-wise, day-to-day, like Jere Lehtinen, the abuse his body has taken and he keeps coming back. His preparation is second to none, what he does ritually everyday, so I was happy to see him have a good game and do well, his situation is up in the air as well. But I think him and Marty, they’ve got hockey left in them.”
“It was nice,” Lehtinen said. “With Mike scoring at the end and in the shootout, Marty got a couple, and we scored, Mike and me. For me it was big, because I’ve played with him for so many years. It’s good to see that, and it’s been great to be a part of it, of that history.”
For Lehtinen, who’s still a relatively young 36, it seems like he’s aged more over the last several years due to the numerous injuries he’s suffered. Having to constantly rehab and battle his way back into the lineup has made for a frustrating time for the three-time Selke Trophy winner as the NHL’s top defensive forward.
“It’s been the last three years pretty rough overall, all the injuries and that stuff,” acknowledged Lehtinen, whose 57 games played this year topped the 48 he skated in each of the two prior seasons. “It’s kind of a lot of things, but I want to play games first and really start thinking about what’s going to happen after.”
If it is the end for Lehtinen, he stressed how much he has enjoyed spending his entire career here in Texas.
“It’s been great,” said the fourth-round selection (88th overall) of the Minnesota North Stars in 1992. “Over the 14 years playing and 15 years living in Dallas, all the fans, it’s been great. And seeing how when I first got here, (hockey) wasn’t that big, we didn’t do that great, but then we got better, won the Cup and since then it’s been battling every year for the Stanley Cup. It’s been great. Everything, it’s always been great for me and my family. It’s been a good time.”
Turco’s situation is a bit different, as he will not be retiring. His contract expires on June 30 and will very likely have to move on to continue his NHL career. With 26-year-old netminder Kari Lehtonen coming in and seemingly ready to take on the role of starter next season, it is probable that the Stars will not re-sign the 34-year-old Turco and that he will receive plenty of interest from other clubs around the league as an unrestricted free agent.
“It’s not the end of my career, but it could be the last time I play here on the home team at American Airlines Center,” acknowledged Turco, who extended his franchise record with his 262nd career victory. “You really don’t know. Where there’s uncertainty and doubt, and a huge possibility of change, you tend to appreciate things a little bit more, and you notice things that you take for granted. With the fans tonight, that was quite a sight and spectacle that we experienced. It was kind of a storybook night for Mike at home, and for Jere too, getting the assist and scoring the game-winning goal in the shootout. For the three of us, it’s tough to put into words, but all nine years for me kind of comes down to one night with the fans. I certainly appreciated all their applauses and their sincerity.”
The Hollywood ending almost didn’t come to be, as Modano’s game-tying goal with 1:47 remaining had to survive a video review by the officials. Standing in front of the net, he deflected Trevor Daley’s wrist shot from the blue line with his stick chest-high, knocking it down and past Hiller.
“Once I saw the replay, I thought, ‘Oh, that’s close,’” Modano admitted. “I think they threw me maybe a farewell bone there.”
He also had a breakaway in overtime, but Ducks rookie Dan Sexton poked him from behind just as he was about to shoot, and he ended up getting off a weaker shovel shot in front that Hiller denied. Afterwards, he looked skyward and smiled wryly.
“I was thinking a few years ago, I might have had some separation and I might have got in there a little easier,” Modano said of that moment. “ I still felt I had some time. I don’t know who it was who caught me, but I thought I still had a second to get it off. I was thinking about what it would have been like if I scored and got that over with. That would have been a good finish to that chapter.”
The final chapter on 2009-10 won’t get any easier emotionally, as Modano and the Stars return to Minnesota, where the icon began his tenure with the franchise back in 1989, for the season finale Saturday night (7 pm start, My27).
“It was something I never realized on the calendar until later in the year,” Modano said of the season finale. “To see that it was going to land in Minnesota, I don’t know what to expect when I go back up there. The fans have been great ever since we moved and every time we return, it’s been a great reception. I’m guessing it’s going to be just as tough as tonight to say goodbye to them and what they meant at such an early stage in my life and career.”
- Modano, who had been 0-for-5 this season in the shootout, now has 557 career regular season goals and 802 assists.
- Lehtinen is now 1-for-3 this year in the shootout.
- The third member of Modano and Lehtinen’s line, rookie Jamie Benn, scored a goal and an assist.
- Defenseman Philip Larsen, who recently joined the Stars after his season in Sweden ended, made his NHL debut. Wearing jersey number 36, he logged 11:52 of ice time and finished +1 with two blocked shots.
Wrist shot -