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Defense playing Star-ring role in Dallas comeback

by Mike G. Morreale

The Dallas Stars defense has limited the Red Wings to one goal in each of the last two games. Watch Marty Turco highlight video 
That the Dallas Stars have battled their way back to force a Game 6 against the Detroit Red Wings in the Western Conference Finals shouldn’t come as a complete shock.
It’s the way in which this resilient bunch has played defensively to neutralize one of the more productive offensive units in the League that has been downright impressive.
Detroit, which is averaging 3.40 goals in 15 playoff games this spring, has been limited to one in each of the last two games – both losses that enabled Dallas to pull within 3-2 in this best-of-7 series, with Game 6 slated for 8 p.m. ET tonight (VERSUS, CBC, RDS, NHL Radio) in Dallas.
“We’ve talked about how we have to defend as a group and (goalie) Marty (Turco) is certainly a big part of that,’’ Dallas coach Dave Tippett said. “Like I said from the start, one of our strengths as a team is how well we check as a group and we expect everybody to do it. It doesn’t matter if you’re a top offensive player or not, their main role is to check.’’
Turco, who ranks third among playoff goalies in goals-against average (1.97) and fourth in save percentage (.925), probably was the happiest of any Dallas player following Game 5. Saturday’s 38-save, 2-1 victory at Joe Louis Arena marked his first professional triumph in Detroit (1-9-2). In the last two victories, Turco has halted 71 of 73 shots to keep the Stars’ season alive.
In the first three games of the series, Turco yielded 11 goals with a 3.69 GAA, including five goals on 21 shots in Game 3. Recently, however, he has exhibited much more confidence playing the puck and was credited with the only assist on Joel Lundqvist’s game-winner 6:04 into the second period in Game 5.

“Overall everyone is stepping up, accepting their responsibility and playing well.’’ Turco said. “We have seen in the last series, and in hockey in general, momentum is a huge part of every game. Once you get into it and grab it, you want to keep it. When you don’t, you try to get it back. I know our fans are just as pumped as ever to see us back playing in Game 6, so it will be to our advantage to maintain it and keep it on our side.’’

Dallas is the 13th team out of 153 to turn a 3-0 deficit into a 3-2 series, with only five of those clubs forcing a deciding game. Just two have come all the way back to win the series – the 1942 Toronto Maple Leafs and 1975 New York Islanders.

“The first three games, anything they tried to do, they basically could,’’ Stars captain Brenden Morrow said. “Pucks were getting deflected in, they were making the easy plays out of their zone, they were dipsy-doodling through the neutral zone. A lot of that was us kind of watching them instead of playing them hard.’’

The Red Wings, who have lost four-straight games only once all season, have been held in check by the Dallas defense in their quest to close out the series and advance to the Stanley Cup Final for the first time since 2002. The club hopes its fortunes will change Monday before what is sure to be a rowdy bunch. This is the deepest Dallas has gone in the playoffs since 2000, when it lost in the Stanley Cup Final to the New Jersey Devils.

“We felt if we could get Game 6 at home, it would be a whole different animal,’’ Dallas’ Mike Modano said. “And then, who knows what can happen Wednesday in Detroit? But we don’t want to get ahead of ourselves. We knew it would be an uphill battle. Nobody picked us to win this thing from the start. We’ve found a way to win the last couple of games even though the odds were against us. But you never say never until the final buzzer goes.’’

Detroit’s Henrik Zetterberg (19) and Pavel Datsyuk (18), who rank in the top five in points and are 1-2 in plus-minus this spring, consistently were denied in Games 4 and 5.

The recent culprits in limiting the Wings, who averaged 3.07 goals in 82 regular-season games en route to winning the Presidents’ Trophy, have been assigned Dallas checkers Toby Petersen, Loui Eriksson and Lundqvist. Petersen, who spent most of the season at the Stars’ minor-league affiliate in Iowa, has done a splendid job in the absence of the injured Stu Barnes (concussion).

“I think the Petersen line came in and gave us strong minutes in a checking role,’’ Tippett said. “The one thing that Petersen, Lundqvist and Eriksson do is they all play the game pretty fast. In the earlier games, Zetterberg and Datsyuk were playing faster than we were able to keep up to, so we decided to throw those guys against them, see if we could at least calm them down a little bit.

“(Zetterberg and Datsyuk) are great players. They’re going to get great chances in the game, and if you have some people that can go at least the same pace as they are, it gives you a better chance.’’

Zetterberg and Datsyuk have combined for one goal and one assist on 17 total shots in the last two games. That’s a sharp contrast to the five goals and four assists they provided the Wings on the way to a 3-0 series lead.

“I think (Dallas) is playing a lot tighter on (Zetterberg),’’ Detroit captain Nicklas Lidstrom said. “They’re trying to keep him on the outside and back-checking him, too. It’s tough when you pull up to have pressure on him all the time. I think we’re still able to create chances so it’s just a matter of getting the puck to the net and executing.’’

Perhaps Detroit now is feeling the effect of losing Johan Franzen, who was leading the League in playoff scoring when he left the lineup before Game 2 with concussion-like symptoms.

“I thought (Petersen, Lundqvist and Eriksson) skated well in their building,’’ Red Wings coach Mike Babcock said. “You know, we directed a lot of shots (39) at the net (in Game 5), so let’s not make things bigger than they are or smaller than they are. It is what it is.

“I think the (Brad) Richards line was good and I thought the (Mike) Ribeiro line was good. So they’ve basically gone to being a three-line team totally and they got good contributions from all nine or 10 guys that played up front and on the back.’’

Detroit’s Kris Draper knows now is not the time to panic.

“We're still up 3-2,’’ he said. “That’s something that we’ve got to keep hammering home. We’re in a dogfight with a great hockey club. You don’t expect that to be easy.’’

Contact Mike Morreale at

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