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Carrying It Forward

by Ken Sins / Dallas Stars

Much has been made of Marty Turco’s 2-10-5 lifetime record against the Red Wings, 0-7-2 in Detroit. Turco hasn’t won at Joe Louis Arena since he was stopping pucks for the University of Michigan, and with the Western Conference finals opening in Motown on Thursday night, it’s natural to dismiss the chances of Turco and the Stars upsetting the mighty Red Wings.

But Turco’s never been on this kind of streak in his career, winning two playoff series for the first time while compiling a .929 save percentage and 1.73 goals-against in the 12 games.

“We wouldn’t be in this position without Marty,’’ Stars captain Brenden Morrow said. “He’s come up huge so many times. It’s pretty amazing stuff, what he’s been doing. We’re riding pretty high on him right now.’’

Actually, Turco began erasing his reputation as a playoff flop last season. The Stars lasted only one round, but nobody was blaming Turco, who posted three shutouts and a 1.30 goals-against in the seven-game series with Vancouver.

Stars fans hope Turco began exorcising any Detroit demons earlier this season when he was a 1-0 victor over the Red Wings at American Airlines Center on Feb. 17, Dallas’ only win over Detroit in four meetings in 2007-08.

“I haven’t played my best up there at times, but the playoffs are a totally different animal,’’ Turco said.

Right now, Turco and his team are as hot as anyone in the NHL. Despite their status as underdogs, the Stars knocked out the defending Stanley Cup champion Anaheim Ducks and Pacific Division-winning San Jose Sharks in the first two rounds.

So who’s to say that Turco and the Stars can’t keep rolling all the way to the Stanley Cup Finals?

“Maybe it’s a great time for a coming-out party for him there,’’ Stars coach Dave Tippett said. “And the goaltender can’t do it himself. It’s the way the team plays in front of him also. We haven’t had a lot of success there. No time is better than now to jump over some of those hurdles. He’s playing very well. And it takes the group in front of him. His playoff performance so far has been excellent.’’

Turco is coming off the game of his life, stopping a career-high 61 shots in the 2-1 elimination of the Sharks.

“Everybody’s talked about his record in Detroit, but this is a new series,’’ Stars center Mike Modano said. “It’s a time to reestablish yourself and quiet those critics. I’m sure Marty’s using this as a great opportunity to change people’s opinions about his situation in Detroit.’’   

Bottom line: this team seems to relish the underdog role.

“I think so,’’ Tippett said. “When people are counting you out, there’s a lot to prove. Nobody gave us a chance against Anaheim or San Jose. I’m sure there are a lot of people that put us in the underdog role in this series. But we’re a very confident group that has strength in how we play together. No one individual is going to take us to the Promised Land. We have to do it as a group.’’

In terms of team MVPs so far in these playoffs, Morrow has been right there with Turco. Morrow’s power-play tap-in off Stephane Robidas’ centering pass gave the Stars the Game 6 victory at 9:03 of the fourth overtime. It was third overtime game-winner of his career and gave Morrow seven goals in the dozen playoff games of 2008.

“When your captain is leading the way like that, it’s pretty to easy to follow suit,’’ Turco said. “It’s inspiring to watch, to see him playing at such a high level. We all know how much he wants it.’’

Said Modano: “He seems determined and possessed in a lot of areas of his game. He doesn’t want to be outplayed. He feels there’s a lot to prove what he’s capable of doing. He doesn’t want to be outdone.’’

Morrow’s work rate has been phenomenal throughout the postseason, ending the last game with seven shots and 19 hits in 51 minutes of ice time.

“When you’re on the bench watching a guy play with that much passion, you better follow suit,’’ Tippett said. “He’s been our catalyst.’’

After that marathon game on Sunday night, the Stars have three days to recover and get recharged. The Red Wings have had almost a week off since completing an easy four-game sweep of the Colorado Avalanche.

Playing a game that took five hours and 14 minutes on Sunday night to wrap up the series against the Sharks extended the Stars, but they should be refocused by Thursday night. On the other hand, the Red Wings could be stale after their lengthy layoff.

“It’s a short turnaround, but the enthusiasm we got out of that game will help us be ready to go,’’ Tippett said.

Playing the Red Wings four times per season means both teams know each other well.

“We’re not going to be surprised by anything,’’ Turco said. “We’re confident with our game, with what we need to do to give ourselves a chance to be successful against these guys. We’re expecting a long series. Our confidence is there and we don’t think it can be shaken.’’

Two injured Stars – forward Stu Barnes (concussion-like symptoms) and defenseman Philippe Boucher (hip) - will be with the team on the Stars charter to Detroit on Wednesday afternoon. Barnes rode the exercise bike on Tuesday and Boucher went through a light skate. The Stars still don’t know if either will be available for Game 1.

“This time of year everybody wants to be out there,’’ Barnes said. “But you have to go through the process.’’

Barnes has missed only the last three playoff games, but Boucher has been forced out of the last nine postseason games.

“It’s too early to tell,’’ Boucher said. “We’ll see how I react and go from there. There are steps I have to take before I can play.’’

The Stars aren’t kidding themselves. They know Detroit is an incredibly talented bunch, led by Johan Franzen (11 playoff goals), Henrik Zetterberg (seven goals, six assists) and Pavel Datsyuk (five goals, eight assists). The Red Wings are probably the best puck-possession team in the league.

“They have a lot of world-class skill, a lot of speed, great one-on-one players,’’ Modano said. “With that, a lot of work has to go into taking time and space away, not allowing them to make plays, keeping them off the power play.’’

Still, the Stars have the Red Wings’ attention as Dallas picked the perfect time to raise its performance following a March slump. Blending trade acquisition Brad Richards into the mix has been a plus, giving the Stars three top-end centers in Richards, Modano and Mike Ribeiro.

“March wasn’t our best month, but the last five or six games of the regular season, we played much better as a group,’’ Tippett said. “With the change, with Richards coming in, we knew that was going to take some time to get integrated into the group. Come playoff time, our group has jelled together very well. We’ve got some momentum and we’re carrying it forward.’’

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