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Dallas appears to be peaking at the right time

by Brian Compton

Stars captain Brenden Morrow completed a strong Western Conference semifinal series by beating San Jose Sharks goaltender Evgeni Nabokov at 9:03 of quadruple overtime to give Dallas a 2-1 win and a date with the Detroit Red Wings in the Western Conference finals.
They closed the regular season with just four wins in 14 games, but the Dallas Stars are now just four wins shy of the Stanley Cup Final.

After disposing of the defending Stanley Cup champion Anaheim Ducks in six games, the Stars took it to their second-round opponent – the San Jose Sharks – much like they did against Anaheim, as they won the first two games of the series on the road.

Game 1 truly set the tone for a series that will be talked about in the coming weeks and months. With the teams deadlocked in a 2-2 tie, Stars captain Brenden Morrow gave his club a 1-0 series lead when he beat Evgeni Nabokov 4:39 into overtime for a 3-2 victory at HP Pavilion.

"Our goal was to come in and steal a game," Morrow said. "You never know what it will be or how many goals it will take. We didn't want to be denied.”

Trailing 2-1 after two periods in Game 2, the Stars erupted for four goals in the third en route to a 5-2 victory. Brad Richards – who won the Conn Smythe Trophy with the Tampa Bay Lightning in 2004 – tied the game just 32 seconds into the period before Mike Modano scored what proved to be the game-winner a little more than three minutes later. Niklas Hagman added two insurance goals late to seal the victory.

"We've had amazing third periods so far in the playoffs," Modano said. "It was a big trip for us. Now it's up to us to respond to this at home. We know this is far from over, but at the same time, we had a great two days here. Every shift, every night, we've looked hungry."

They didn’t let up, either. At least, not right away.

Mattias Norstrom’s goal at 4:37 of overtime in Game 3 gave Dallas a commanding 3-0 series lead on the Sharks, who were the hottest team in the League going down the stretch of the regular season. San Jose nearly overtook the Detroit Red Wings for the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference, falling just seven points short.

Improbably, the Stars were on the verge of sweeping coach Ron Wilson’s club. All they needed was another victory on home ice in Game 4.

"There's a lot of momentum right now," Modano said. "It'll be a fun night, an elimination game."

With their season on the line, though, the Sharks pulled one out. Patrick Marleau’s shorthanded goal erased a 1-0 deficit midway through the second period before Milan Michalek scored on the power play early in the third as San Jose came away with a 2-1 victory to force a Game 5 back at the Shark Tank.

Just like Games 1 and 3, overtime was needed to decide the winner in Game 5. Sixty-five seconds into the extra session, Joe Pavelski beat Marty Turco to cut the series deficit to 3-2. Suddenly, the Stars were just another loss away from having their season on the line, too.

Only the 1942 Toronto Maple Leafs and the 1975 New York Islanders had come back from a 3-0 series deficit to win in seven games.

"Every game we lose, we give them more life, but I like our position better than theirs," Morrow said. "The third period was our downfall. We have to move on, earn our breaks. We earned this 3-2 lead."

Back at the American Airlines Center for Game 6, the Stars gave their fans a memory they’ll likely never forget. In the eighth-longest game in NHL history, Morrow sent Dallas to the Western Conference Finals when he beat Nabokov at 9:03 of quadruple overtime in a 2-1 victory. Turco set a franchise record with 61 saves.

The win assured Dallas of its first trip to the conference finals since 2000, a year after the franchise’s lone Stanley Cup championship. Dallas returned to the Stanley Cup Final in 2000 before falling to the New Jersey Devils.
"It's nice to be on this side of it for once," Turco said after the five-hour, 14-minute marathon. "We've had some long ones before. But none of them was more memorable than this one. It was 99 percent fun tonight."

Whether it will be as fun to play the Presidents' Trophy winners in Round 3 remains to be seen, as Detroit looked awfully sharp in its four-game sweep of the Colorado Avalanche in the conference semifinals.

Nonetheless, the Stars can certainly label the 2007-08 season a successful one, given the early-season struggles that cost General Manager Doug Armstrong his job. They’re just eight wins away from their second Stanley Cup.
"We are moving a step forward and there are eight more wins to go," defenseman Stephane Robidas said.

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