April 25, 2007
"Wake me up, when September ends..."
That's what Dallas Stars fans are thinking after Monday night's 4-1 loss to the Vancouver Canucks in Game Seven of the first round of the 2007 Stanley Cup Playoffs. September will be when the team reports to training camp and starts preparing for next year.
And there's always next year. For the Dallas Stars, that's been the story of the last three seasons:
First round playoff exit...stage left.
This year, though, the fault doesn't lie with Marty.
I questioned the Stars' decision to bring in Eric Lindros and Matthew Barnaby during the offseason. Why would we want another Captain Concussion here in Big D, after all, when Troy Aikman already holds the title?
In reality, though, Lindros held up surprisingly well for a while. For the first six weeks of the season, his physical play made him a presence on offense, and the Stars were looking pretty sharp.
Then the injury bug swarmed in.
Mike Modano went down for an extended period of time. Lindros followed suit, though his melon was intact. Sergei Zubov spent time in the sick bay, and then there was the freak injury to team captain Brenden Morrow who just about had his hand severed by a skate. The resulting surgery to repair damaged tendons meant months of recovery.
But still the Stars held on. They found ways to win games with a patchwork lineup. They brought up promising talent from the minors, grabbed a veteran at the trade deadline, and kept pace just behind the Anaheim Ducks and San Jose Sharks in the Pacific.
They also brought up goalie Mike Smith from the Iowa Stars to backup Turco in net. "Smitty" shut out Phoenix in his first NHL start, and his effectiveness allowed coach Dave Tippett to rest Turco. The youngster helped keep the Stars in games when Turco was on the bench, and at year's end the pair was contending for the Jennings Trophy for fewest goals against in the NHL.
Then the playoffs came, and the questions started: How long will the Stars hold on this year?
A 5-4, four-overtime Game One loss didn't exactly ease the concerns. Dallas bounced back to shut out the Canucks in Game Two...only to drop Games Three and Four in Dallas against the stellar play of Canucks goalie Roberto Luongo.
The mood as the teams headed back to Vancouver for a potentially decisive Game Five?
In a word: grim.
But Marty stepped up and shut the Canucks down, putting the kibosh on the party. He blanked Vancouver again in Game Six, leaving Dallas fans to ask a single collective question about what was suddenly a one-game series:
Where did this come from?
The Stars had never been known for battling back in the playoffs and Marty was a brick wall. Then came Game Seven on Monday night...in Vancouver...before a fired up crowd...
And the Stars struck first.
What, what, WHAT? Is it possible? Do you believe in miracles? Could the Stars become part of that ten percent of teams who've been down three games to one and then come back to win a Stanley Cup playoff series?
Well, the Canucks' Henrik Sedin cooled those fantasies with a power play goal at 15:12 of the second period, which left the score even heading into the third.
Speaking of power plays: Referees Rob Schick and Brad Watson decided to give their whistles a workout through the second and third periods. The result was a parade to the penalty box: ten minors for the Stars, five for the Canucks. And what a shame. Game Sevens in the NHL playoffs are among the greatest spectacles in sports. It was unfortunate that the refs decided to play Ice Cops instead of allowing the two teams to battle it out for themselves.
In the end, a power play goal from Trevor Linden put Vancouver ahead for good. Two more empty-netters sent the Stars to pack up their sticks and dust off their golf clubs for the summer.
And the blame? You can't point the finger at Turco the guy allowed 11 goals in seven games, and five of those came in the four-overtime loss in Game One. He shut out Vancouver in all three Stars wins. Need I do the math for you? This wasn't a Marty problem...it was an offense problem.
In any event, Turco's silenced his naysayers, at least here in Dallas. He may not have won a playoff series, but he certainly didn't lose this one.
As for the rest of the Stars, well... wake me up, when September ends...
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