DALLAS - Throughout the shellings, blown leads and other indignations he's endured at Joe Louis Arena, Dallas Stars goaltender Marty Turco has pacified himself with one thought: "At least it's not the playoffs."
Well, now it is. Turco is carrying an 0-7-2 record and a 3.17 goals-against average at "The Joe" into the Western Conference finals against the Detroit Red Wings starting Thursday night.
"Actually, not at all," Turco said Tuesday. "This is totally a different animal. ... To say I'm looking forward to this is an understatement."
He's coming off arguably the best performance of his career, one of the best in club history - a franchise-record 61 saves in a quadruple-overtime victory that ended the second-round series against the Sharks. Had he let any of those shots get past him, Dallas would've been playing Game 7 in San Jose on Tuesday night.
Turco has been solid the entire post-season, with a goals-against average that's second only to Detroit's Chris Osgood and the fourth-best save percentage. More important, he outduelled reigning Stanley Cup champion Jean-Sebastien Giguere of Anaheim in the first round, then topped Vezina Trophy finalist Evgeni Nabokov in the second round.
"He's been spectacular in making the hard saves look easy for us for a long time," Stars captain Brenden Morrow said. "It's been a lot of fun to watch."
Now, if he wins a single game - and Dallas will need at least one in Detroit to win the series - he'll really have done something.
"I'm not trying to erase any memories of playing against these guys at Joe Louis at all," Turco said. "I'm here to win this series, to win the next game, and, from a focus level, to make that next save. That's for me, and pretty much all goalies, the approach you need to have and look forward to it."
The last time the Stars won in Detroit, backup Mike Smith got the win. The time before that, it was another of Turco's backups, Johan Hedberg.
But Turco isn't much better against the Red Wings in Dallas, going 2-3-3. That's a career record of 2-10-5 against Detroit for a goalie who's 205-93-21 against everyone else.
"I really could care less if I was 0-and-100 against these guys or had never lost a game and never got scored on," Turco said. "It is totally all irrelevant at this time of year. It's something that, to be honest, isn't entering my mind at all. ... So there's a lot to think about, and that's not one of them."
The Red Wings surely will be thinking about it. They know they've owned Turco at their place and will do all they can to remind him of it. In other words, if they're not already in his head - like he insists - then they will try getting there quickly, whether they admit it or not.
"I'm not playing into that," Detroit forward Kris Draper said. "It's a different time of year. He's a huge reason why the Dallas Stars are coming into the Western Conference finals. He's never played here this time of year, and we've never played him this time of year. It's a whole new ballgame."
Turco is in the conference finals for the first time in his career, a feat that would be the angle if Dallas was facing anyone else.
After winning his first-ever playoff series, back in 2003, he lost four straight. The last three were first-rounders, prompting questions of whether he was the right guy in goal.
Turco earned the benefit of the doubt last post-season with three shutout wins and forcing overtime in two of his losses, including a four-OT thriller. His performance the last two rounds - which includes winning Games 1 and 2 on the road in both series - proves the franchise was right to keep trusting him, having dealt the highly touted Smith to Tampa at the trade deadline for Brad Richards.
Now, conquering his house of horrors, er, Joe Louis Arena, and getting Dallas back to the Stanley Cup finals would be a double dose of credibility.
"Today is a new day and a series is a new series, so it's a time to re-establish yourself again and quiet those critics," Stars icon Mike Modano said.
The irony is Turco loved playing at The Joe during his college days at Michigan.
"You know, it's got a lot of great memories for me, not just the disappointing ones in the NHL," he said. "To draw on experiences from all areas of my career, you know, you're going to do that. But I'm really looking forward to going back there and looking to have some more success."