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A Clean Slate

by Staff Writer / Dallas Stars
By Ken Sins

Stars Say This Year Will be Different

Sure, the heat will be on goaltender Marty Turco when the Stars get their first-round playoff series underway against the Vancouver Canucks on Wednesday night. That's no scoop. Turco's past playoff performances - including the fallout from a first-round knockout courtesy of the Colorado Avalanche last year - have become an unfortunate part of his identity as an athlete.

But Turco won't be on the ice by himself in front of a hostile crowd against the Northwest Division champions at GM Place. His teammates are well aware that they must shoulder their share of the load if the Stars are to escape from this tough first-round matchup.

"Marty took a lot of criticism last year, probably unfairly," Stars defenseman Philippe Boucher said. "We win as a team, lose as a team. Marty's been very solid this season. We have tons of confidence in him. But (the media) have been talking about it all year. It (success in the playoffs) is something we all have to do better. We've had great seasons and not-so-good results in the playoffs. So the pressure isn't just on Marty. It's on all of us.''

Team defense, blocking shots, clearing the crease and puck possession will be critical for the Stars. So will getting an early lead and scoring some ugly, pinball goals.

Dallas finished the regular season with only 226 goals (only nine NHL teams had fewer), although Vancouver managed four less than the Stars. Dallas would have been a more prolific scoring team with full seasons from Mike Modano and Brenden Morrow, both of whom completed the season healthy and productive.

Modano missed 23 games with a hip injury and finished with 22 goals, short of his usual 30-goal production. And Morrow sat out 33 straight games after severing tendons in his wrist in a game in December and was out for a total of 42 games due to injuries. Morrow, who notched three goals in his last four games, contributed 16 goals on the season despite all the missed games, putting him on track for 30-plus in a full season.

Dallas also might have had more scoring punch with a full season from left wing Ladislav Nagy, acquired from the Phoenix Coyotes in a mid-February trade. Nagy groped to find his way with a new team, but seemed to be getting acclimated down the stretch with three assists in his last four games.

Mike Ribeiro was the Stars leading scorer with 59 points (18 goals, 41 assists), followed by Nagy (55 points), defenseman Sergei Zubov (54 points) and Boucher (a career-high 51 points). Right wing Jere Lehtinen led the team with 26 goals, and 10 of his teammates chipped in with double-digit goals.

"We're not going to blow anybody out, that's the way it is,'' Stars coach Dave Tippett said. "We're a hard-working team that scores by committee. We find ways to win. We're focused right now on playing well as a group.''

The Stars gathered at their Dr Pepper StarCenter practice rink in Frisco on Monday morning for a brief but spirited practice, then boarded the team charter for the flight to Vancouver later in the day.

This is a determined bunch eager to erase the memories of recent playoff failures. Dallas was knocked out in the first round by Colorado in five games in each of the Stars' last two playoff trips.

"It was a really crisp and sharp practice, passes were on the tape and you could see the guys were really focused,'' Boucher said. "It's a long season, some practices you just go through the motions. You hate to admit it, but it's a fact. But these guys are focused and ready for the biggest time of the year. We're ready to be sharp when we hit the ice on Wednesday night.''

Dallas and Vancouver split their four games during the regular season, with all four ending in 2-1 scores won by the home team. Both are strong defending teams Dallas allowed 197 goals, second fewest in the league, while Vancouver yielded 201, tied for fifth fewest in the NHL.

"It's a very even matchup,'' Tippett said. "It's remarkable how the stats -- special teams, goals-against, there's a lot of things that are very even in this series.''

No, this doesn't project as a shootout, not with Turco (2.23 goals-against, fourth in the league) and Vancouver's Roberto Luongo (47 wins, second in the league) between the pipes.

"This will be a tight series,'' Morrow said.

Which goalie will crack first? Turco at least has playoff experience, having been through four series. Luongo is considered one of the league's elite at his position, but he is a playoff novice.

Still, the Stars aren't banking on the big and talented goalie to melt under the playoff glare.

"I don't expect a world-class goalie like that to be rattled in the playoffs,'' Boucher said.

"We've got to get traffic in front of him,'' Morrow said. "He's going to stop that first shot, so we've got to get in there and get rebounds and second and third opportunities. Goalies are going to stop pretty much everything they see these days so we've got to get bodies in front. They're not going to be pretty tic-tac-toe goals.''

"You've got to think quantity, not quality, get a lot of bodies in front of it, make it tough to see,'' Modano said.

The Stars closed the season with a 12-2-2 spurt to finish with 50 wins and the sixth playoff seed, and they hope to bring that momentum into Canada. Dallas was 28-15 in one-goal games, compiled a 10-2-5 record when tied after two periods, and negated the opposition's last 25 power plays.

Dallas enters the post-season as healthy as the team has been in a long while. Lehtinen returns from a lower-body strain and defenseman Darryl Sydor will be back after sitting out six of the last seven games with a hand injury.

Opening on the road will be a bit of a change for the Stars, having had home-ice advantage in eight of their last 10 first-round series. But getting started on the road won't be a problem, the players contend. Pressure to establish dominance over an opponent because of home ice can be stifling. Gaining a split of the first two games in Vancouver will fuel their confidence.

"We've got to take one, and we can do that on Wednesday night,'' Morrow said. "We're a different team than last year. Our confidence is high right now.''


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