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Stars win marathon to reach Western Finals

by Brian Compton / NHL.com

The Dallas Stars defeated the San Jose Sharks 3-2 in quadruple OT to clinch their playoff series 4-2.
Watch Morrow's winning OT goal
A few thoughts while we thank the Dallas Stars and San Jose Sharks for playing Games 6 and 7 in the same night:

Marathon Men -- It took 129 minutes and three seconds, but the Dallas Stars are going to the Western Conference final.

Once again, the San Jose Sharks are going home early.

Brenden Morrow’s goal -- his seventh of the playoffs -- at 9:03 of quadruple overtime concluded yet another disappointing season for the Sharks, who were the best team in the League the last month of the season following the acquisition of defenseman Brian Campbell from the Buffalo Sabres.

“You can’t describe it,” Morrow said after scoring his second overtime winner of the series. “The reward we get for these fans, it’s a heck of a series. They put up a heck of a fight and it’s nice to get it over with.”   

The Stars will meet the Detroit Red Wings in the Western Conference final, which is slated to begin Thursday night at Joe Louis Arena. The Wings, who won the Presidents’ Trophy with 115 points, swept the Colorado Avalanche in Round 2. It’s the first time Dallas has reached the Stanley Cup semifinals since 2000.

While Morrow was a hero, Marty Turco was THE hero. The Stars’ netminder made 61 saves in the victory, many of the acrobatic variety.

"We have nothing to hang our heads in shame about. We showed character and kept going. We were down a player, played overtime without him -- a full game with a short bench. Our guys kept going and going and going. We had a ton of chances." - Sharks coach Ron Wilson
"That was as fitting as anything I've every seen in sports, that Brenden Morrow got the game-winner," Stars coach Dave Tippett said. "It's been a long time since I've seen somebody have a series like that. That's him taking the team on his back and carrying us. Turco was great, too."

Granted, San Jose deserved a better fate Sunday. The Sharks fired 62 shots on goal on the night, only to be denied time and time again by Turco in a game that managed to last longer (5 hours, 14 minutes) than one of Paula Abdul’s critiques.

In the end, though, San Jose did lose the first three games of this series and waited far too long to play the way it’s capable of playing. Just like they did against the Calgary Flames in the opening round, it seemed the Sharks needed their backs to be against the wall before putting their best foot forward.

Eye-opening stat of the night: Joe Thornton had just three shots on goal in 47:14 of ice time for San Jose. On the other side of the ice, Stars’ forward Brad Richards had nine in 44 minutes.

Still, Sharks coach Ron Wilson was proud of the effort his team put forth, especially after losing Milan Michalek to a thunderous hit from Morrow at the end of regulation.

"We have nothing to hang our heads in shame about,” Wilson said. “We showed character and kept going. We were down a player, played overtime without him -- a full game with a short bench. Our guys kept going and going and going. We had a ton of chances."
   
Sweet Redemption – For Marian Hossa, what transpired on Sunday afternoon at Mellon Arena could not have been any sweeter.

Marian Hossa celebrates with teammate Pascal Dupuis after scoring the game winning goal in overtime to beat the New York Rangers in Game 5 yesterday.
With a reputation for failing to come up big at this time of year, Hossa scored twice – including the game-winner at 7:10 of overtime – to help the Pittsburgh Penguins reach the Eastern Conference final with a 3-2 win over the New York Rangers.

“I had some bad playoffs and I had some good playoffs, I can't control what other people say about my playoff performance,” said Hossa, who was acquired from the Atlanta Thrashers at the trade deadline. “I always try and I'm on a great team right now, and I can just enjoy the ride.”

 A ride that now features the first-ever conference final between the League’s two teams from Pennsylvania. The Philadelphia Flyers -- perhaps the grittiest team remaining in this postseason -- knocked off the Montreal Canadiens in five games to reach the semifinals for the first time in four years.

Game 1 of the Eastern Conference final will be played on Friday night in the Steel City.

“You want a rivalry, there's one right there,” Pittsburgh captain Sidney Crosby said. “The playoffs are always intense, but it throws a little spice into it when it’s Pittsburgh-Philadelphia. It doesn't get any easier.”

Crosby’s right, although the Penguins’ chances of reaching the Stanley Cup Final for the first time since 1992 are that much greater if they continue to receive the type of contributions that Hossa made on Sunday.

“For a guy that's been criticized and known for not scoring big goals in the playoffs when it's clutch time, obviously he scored an unbelievably big goal,” said Pens forward Pascal Dupuis, who arrived with Hossa from Atlanta in the same deal.

One-For-68 -- A season that began with hopes of their first Stanley Cup since 1994 and their second since 1940 came to a crushing end Sunday, when the New York Rangers lost in Pittsburgh.

After making an impressive jump in 2006-07 behind the stellar goaltending of Henrik Lundqvist, the Rangers believed they were only a couple key players away from another big parade in downtown Manhattan.

"This is just a disappointing season. We built this team to go farther than the second round." - Rangers forward Brendan Shanahan
Last year’s march to the second round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs prompted the Rangers to make a huge splash on July 1 with the signings of free agents Scott Gomez (7 years, $51.5 million) and Chris Drury (5 years, $35.25 million).

For whatever reason, though, the Blueshirts were unable to inch closer to another championship. They finished the regular season with 97 points – only five ahead of the ninth-place Carolina Hurricanes.

In the end, the Rangers actually won more postseason games in 2007 (six) than they did this time around (five).

"This is just a disappointing season," said Brendan Shanahan, who had just one goal in 10 playoff games. "We built this team to go farther than the second round."

The big question now is, what will this team look like when training camp opens in four months? Will Jaromir Jagr be back? How about Shanahan? Sean Avery?

Jagr, who was by far the Rangers’ best player this postseason (15 points in 10 games), wants to continue his career. Where he’ll do it remains to be seen.

"I don't think I am going to retire from hockey. I know I am going to play somewhere," Jagr said. "I still feel like I have many years left."

Contact Brian Compton at: bcompton@nhl.com.



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