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Back To The Future

by J. Douglas Foster / Dallas Stars

Someone convince me we’re not back in the 1990s.

I could’ve sworn I just listened to the Toadies, singing “I come from the water” on the Dallas Stars bench. The Stars fans, most likely perturbed at vocal Red Wings fans interrupting their rendition of the national anthem, belted out “Stars” in the Star Spangled Banner at a decibel not yet reached in the luxurious, expansive confines of American Airlines Center.

And in the end, in a building that sounded more like Reunion Arena than it ever has, the Red Wings broke the Stars’ hearts again.

Yep, I’ve seen this movie before. The Red Wings coming into Dallas, with their smattering of annoying fans (who no doubt live in Dallas, because, after all, why would anyone willingly live in Detroit?) and beat the Stars. This time, it was a 5-2 victory, which gives Detroit a 3-0 series lead.

And I have to wonder -- where’s Jamie Langenbrunner firing one in from center ice when you need him? As good friend and personal agitator Jennifer Floyd Engel pointed out in the pregame meal, that was Chris Osgood letting that one in, right?

Come on Ozzie. How about one freebie, from about 120 feet, this postseason?

Just once, for old times sake?

Apparently not.

Unfortunately, Game 3 of the 2008 Western Conference Finals wasn’t like Game 5 of the 1998 Western Conference Finals. Instead, it was like too many other Stars/Red Wings games, where Dallas played well enough to win – and at times seemed to have complete momentum – only to see the uber-skilled Red Wings make that one extra play, kill off that one big penalty and get loose for one timely breakaway.

“They’ve got a hell of a team,” Stars defenseman Nicklas Grossman said, after scoring one of Dallas’ two goals. “You give them a finger, they’ll take your whole hand.”

The scary part about the Detroit/Dallas matchup is that it doesn’t seem to necessarily fall into the realm of “you win there, we win here.” And as much as we can lament the Stars’ struggles in Detroit recently (they are 1-6-0 in their last seven trips to the Joe, regular & postseason combined), the Red Wings don’t seem to discriminate when it comes to where they win.

Since American Airlines Center opened in the summer of 2001, the Stars have now won three times in the 13 home games against the Red Wings. Detroit’s seven wins at American Airlines Center, regular season and playoffs combined, are fourth among all opponents, and they’ve played half as many games here as Anaheim and San Jose (the leaders in wins by opponents). In other words, Detroit’s .692 win percentage in this building is head and shoulders above any other opponent.

“We’ve had some tough times against these guys, especially in the playoffs,” said Stars center Mike Modano, who sits on a brink of a fourth postseason loss to his hometown Red Wings in as many matchups. “Historically we haven’t been very good against these guys, no matter who is over there. They just seem to find the ability to keep rolling and keep reloading.”

Those struggles against the Red Wings aren’t exclusive to the Dallas Stars. Let’s not forget the Red Wings not only won the their sixth President’s Trophy with 53 wins and 113 points this season, but they also tied for the league’s second-best road record with a 25-12-4 mark. And Monday’s victory was their ninth consecutive this postseason.

Yep, they’re good. Just like they were in 1998, when they eliminated the Stars in six games on the way to a Stanley Cup title. I would use an expletive to explain just how good this team is, but I’ve grown accustomed to the paycheck that coincides with filling this portion of the Internet.

Bottom line is, a team that once followed the charge of players like Steve Yzerman, Brendan Shanahan and Sergei Fedorov now hitches its wagon to names like Henrik Zetterberg, Jiri Hudler and Pavel Datsyuk, who had a hat trick in Monday’s Game 3 win. The constants along the way have been Tomas Holmstrom, who seems all too comfortable in front of Dallas’ net, and Nicklas Lidstrom, who has simply been the best defenseman in the world for at least the 10 years between the two series meetings.

As Modano said, the Red Wings never seem to rebuild. They just reload. And right now, they’re playing at a level different from the rest of the NHL.

“It’s a different game against these guys than against San Jose and Anaheim,” Modano said. “Much different.”

This series, however, isn’t over. Not just yet. It takes four wins to clinch a series, and though just two of 153 teams have come back from 3-0 deficits all time, the Stars still believe they can come back.

Yet they also know they can’t win all three games Wednesday night.

Right now, they’ll settle for one – and a little momentum.

“We can’t give up even though it’s 3-0,” Stars defenseman Stephane Robidas said. “I don’t care what the odds say. We can’t give up. There’s not a whole lot of positive stuff right now, but we’ve got to find something and make it positive.”

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