A confident group guided by wily veterans like Pat Verbeek and Guy Carbonneau, these Stars had an edge to them, thanks in large part to their taskmaster, Ken Hitchcock. Hitchcock drove the team hard while implementing a disciplined and defensive style that suffocated teams to death.
The Stars fully expected to meet up with either Buffalo or Washington, the two teams playing in the Eastern Conference finals, and then proudly parade the silver trophy through the streets alongside Reunion Arena.
The only thing standing in their date with destiny was Scotty Bowman, Steve Yzerman, and the rest of the defending Stanley Cup champion Detroit Red Wings.
"I've played against these guys my whole career, so I know what they're going to do," Dallas' enigmatic goaltender Ed Belfour said about his upcoming opponent. "I know who their snipers are, and I know how to approach them."
The series was billed as a battle of the behemoths. The Stars boasted a tight-checking style, with Belfour rarely seeing more than 25 shots per game. Centers Joe Nieuwendyk and Mike Modano led the offensive charge, while general manager Bob Gainey bolstered the veteran presence on his team with the addition of Mike Keane and Brian Skrudland in a deadline deal with the New York Rangers.
The Red Wings, meanwhile, had won their first championship in 42 years the summer before, and were looking to become the first team since Pittsburgh in 1992 to win consecutive Stanley Cups. Like the Stars, the Red Wings had a splendid mix of gritty forwards like Kris Draper and Darren McCarty coupled with offensive stars Yzerman and Sergei Fedorov.
Heading into the series, the Stars were on a roll despite losing Nieuwendyk for the rest of the postseason when he injured his knee in Game 1 of the Western Conference quarterfinals against San Jose. Dallas had allowed just five goals to the Oilers in their semifinal series win, and was ready for whatever Detroit was going to throw at them.
Below is a capsule look at the series that proved to be everything it was billed up to be.Game 1, May 24 at Dallas
Having won six of their last seven games, Dallas entered Game 1 with tremendous confidence. Detroit goalie Chris Osgood, however, quickly let the air out of the Stars balloon.
Playing in front of a raucous sold-out Reunion Arena, Osgood silenced the crowd while being hardly tested, finishing with just 14 saves, including only eight after the first 20 minutes.
Slava Kozlov and Martin Lapointe scored second-period goals for the Red Wings, who improved to 6-1 on the road in the '98 playoffs.
"Both of these teams can shut down the other one real well," Bowman said. "That's what happened today. There was not much in the way of scoring opportunities."
The Red Wings took 23 shots on Belfour, and killed off all five of Dallas' power play opportunities, including a 5-on-3 in the first period.
"Our power play did not get it done," Hitchcock said. "We need to focus on that. Detroit's four outworked our five."
The Stars work on the power play was becoming troubling for Hitchcock. Dallas had converted only twice on its last 34 man advantage attempts heading into the series, and following Game 1 they were just 9-for-75 in the postseason.
"We're not happy with the way we played," Stars captain Derian Hatcher said. "After we got behind I think we got frustrated. It's a lot tougher to come back from the deficit against teams that play like ours."Game 2, May 26 at Dallas
Determined to erase the bitter taste of their Game 1 loss, the Stars came out hitting in Game 2. The strategy worked.
Outmuscling the Red Wings the entire game, the Stars tied the series thanks to a convincing 3-1 win. Dallas got goals from grinder Bob Bassen and Greg Adams, and Carbonneau iced the game with an empty-net tally to send the best-of-seven to Detroit deadlocked at a game apiece.
The Stars set the tone in a physical first period, outhitting the Red Wings by a 15-5 margin.
"The nastier and harder Derian (Hatcher) and those guys play, the harder the whole group plays, and that's better for us," Hitchcock said.
Bassen, who had scored all of three goals in the regular season, opened the scoring when he chipped the puck over Osgood's shoulder just six minutes into the game. Hatcher and defensive partner Richard Matvichuk, meanwhile, combined for nine hits in the game, which was one more than all of the Detroit blueliners.
Bassen also got physical after he scored, banging into the glass with a jubilatory force the Stars soon latched onto.
"I was a little out of control there," Bassen said. "I had to go sit on the bench."
It was quite a change for a team that looked lethargic at best in Game 1.
"Our first game effort was not good enough," Modano said. "We knew we had to come out and play physically, play with a high level of intensity and take the body."
In the process, the Stars set a playoff record by allowing two goals or less in 10 consecutive postseason games. The original record was set by the 1928 Montreal Maroons.
"The last 10 minutes, Dallas just stayed back and played defensive hockey," Fedorov said. "All five of their guys stayed back and played defense in the third and they did an outstanding job of doing that and upsetting our attack."Game 3, May 29 at Detroit
Stingy defense had been the name of the Stars game throughout the '97-98 season. In Game 3 of the Western Conference finals, it took the night off at the most inopportune time.
Detroit used four unanswered goals in the game's first 25 minutes to unglue the Stars just enough to take a 2-1 series lead with a 5-3 Game 3 win. Red Wings defenseman Nicklas Lidstrom scored twice in the four-goal outburst, and Brent Gilchrist, Jamie Macoun and Lapointe also scored.
Down 4-0, the Stars put on a ferocious counter-attack, and made it 4-3 with 12 minutes left in regulation on Modano's goal. But Lapointe put the game away with his seventh postseason tally with just over four minutes to go after he knocked down Belfour behind the net before skating out in front to deposit the clincher.
"Lapointe two-handed me and caught me in between a piece of pad," Belfour said. "Obviously it hurt. I went down and tried to get back in the net, but it was too late."
Jere Lehtinen had a pair of goals for the Stars, who registered 34 shots on Osgood but went an abysmal 0-for-7 with the man advantage.
"We can talk all we want about how we came back and almost won the game, but we aren't going to fool anyone," Skrudland said. "Detroit had a 4-0 lead in their building and they slacked off a little. That's just human nature, and that's all it was."Game 4, May 31 at Detroit
The Stars didn't want to dream about what would happen to their championship aspirations if they lost Game 4. Unfortunately, their nightmare came true.
Smelling blood, the Red Wings jumped on the Stars early then held on for dear life for the second straight game, defeating Dallas 3-2 to take a commanding 3-1 series lead back to Texas.
Kirk Maltby and Yzerman scored in the first period, and Kozlov netted the winner midway through the third period for Detroit.
Verbeek cut the lead in half with a goal in the second period, and Sergei Zubov tied it just under a minute into the third. But the rally fell short again, as the Stars found themselves in a big hole that was going to be tough to crawl out of.
"There's a big difference between 2-2 and 3-1," Yzerman said. "This is going to be one of the most difficult teams in the league to try and end the series."
The Red Wings also received an emotional boost with the attendance of former defenseman Vladimir Konstantinov, who was recovering from a severe head injury sustained in a limousine accident last June.
The Stars, meanwhile, once again unloaded on Osgood, peppering the netminder with 30 shots.
"We had some great chances, but Chris Osgood played better than I've ever seen him play," Hitchcock said.
"This team's got way too much character and way too much strength and experience to give up," Matvichuk said. "We know if we can get that one early in our rink, we'll be all right."Game 5, June 3 at Dallas
The Stars didn't need a miracle to get back into their series with the Red Wings, they just needed a win. They ended up getting both.
Jamie Langenbrunner's improbable goal from 100-feet out just 46 seconds into overtime helped Dallas stave off elimination with a 3-2 Game 5 win at Reunion Arena. Langenbrunner's slap shot from the center of the red line skipped over Osgood's stick and jumped into the net, giving the Stars sudden life in sudden death.
"I don't know if I've ever scored form that far," Langenbrunner said.
Langenbrunner, though, never would have been in the position to win it had it not been for Carbonneau's dramatic goal with just 85 seconds left in regulation. Carbonneau's wrist shot from the right circle deflected off Lidstrom's stick and over Osgood's shoulder to send the game into the extra session.
"I didn't really see what happened," said Carbonneau, who also assisted on Keane's first-period goal. "I know I wasn't trying to shoot the puck high."
That didn't matter. What did was the Stars not squandering another powerful offensive effort in which they pummeled Osgood with 36 shots.
"I've had the chance to win the Cup twice," Carbonneau said. "Once you win it once, you want to win it every year. Instead of going on vacation, we get to play another game."Game 6, June 5 at Dallas
The showdown in Motown turned into a severe Dallas Stars letdown.
Larry Murphy and Fedorov scored for the Red Wings, and Osgood atoned for his shoddy play in Game 5 to help lift Detroit to a 2-0 Game 6 win at Joe Louis Arena, sending the Presidents' Trophy-winning Stars home with a bitter 4-2 series defeat.
The Stars were unable to ride the high of their Game 5 win, as the Red Wings put 14 shots on Belfour during a first-period surge. After Fedorov scored early in the second, Osgood took over, making 19 of his 26 saves over the final two periods to post his second shutout of the series.
"I allowed a couple of long goals in the playoffs, but who cares," Osgood said. "I bounced back. I couldn't wait to play tonight."
Osgood assisted in the Stars elimination, but one of the main reasons was their inability to put the puck in the net while Detroit was shorthanded. Dallas was a meager 1-for-30 in the series on the power play, and even allowed a pair of short-handed tallies.
"That hurt us," Verbeek said. "It helped us win games all year, but we couldn't get any when we needed them at the most crucial times of the game. It's frustrating…you get this close to going to the finals, and then come up short."
"They won, and there's not a lot to talk about," Hatcher said. The Aftermath
Hatcher, Verbeek and Co. had plenty to talk about a year later, as the Stars captured their first-ever Stanley Cup on Brett Hull's triple-overtime winner in Game 6 against Buffalo, who had lost to Washington in the '98 Eastern Conference finals.
Detroit, meanwhile, went on to sweep the Capitals to win their second straight Stanley Cup in 1998.