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Fight to the End

by J. Douglas Foster / Dallas Stars

There’s no doubt the Detroit Red Wings are still in prime position, taking a 3-1 lead in the Western Conference Final back to their building – where, by the way, they’re 7-0 this postseason, last having lost a playoff game there 360 days ago against Anaheim.

But it’s probably safe to say they learned a little something about the Dallas Stars during Wednesday night’s Game 4.

Hopefully, the entire hockey world did.

No disrespect intended to the wounded, shorthanded Colorado Avalanche, but it was clear Wednesday the Stars weren’t going to let the Red Wings take a decisive game in this series as easily as they did in the last one. No eight-goal outbursts tonight. No mildly contested two-on-ones, no “showtime” acrobatic spinning goals with their backs to the netminder, and no embarrassing final blow dealt to their opponent.

If the Red Wings were going to get center-ice handshakes Wednesday, they would have to earn them – inch by inch, check by check, shift by shift, shot by shot. And on that night, a Stars team all but given up for dead just had too much fight.

Not in our building. Not in front of our fans. At least not tonight, and certainly not as easily as you did it May 1 in Denver.

“When your desperation level is as high as ours was tonight, knowing that a loss sends you home for the summer, you rise up,” Stars captain Brenden Morrow said.

Did they ever.

As you know by now, that swelling of the Stars’ collective pride resulted in a 3-1 win in a do-or-die Game 4, earning them a trip back to Detroit for Saturday’s Game 5.

Sure, Detroit isn’t exactly Cabo in May. It wouldn’t top anybody’s list of desirable vacation destinations.

But right now, you can’t find a Dallas Star who isn’t excited about going to Motown Friday afternoon.

“Only in certain circumstances,” Stars center and Michigan native Mike Modano said about times he wants to visit Detroit. “This is the one.”

Before we talk about where they’re going – and what they hope to accomplish there – let’s discuss why they are going back to Joe Louis Arena.

Much like you, the Stars read the papers. They listen to the radio. And they probably heard how they were “done” after losing Game 3. I’m not going to get into the typical “bash the media and so-called experts for counting us out” game, because it’s often a tired, overused tool employed by those associated with teams on the ropes.

Instead, I’m going to tell you the Stars deserved a better fate than being swept by the Red Wings. They knew that as well, which is why you saw the effort you saw Wednesday night.

A close friend and one of the most tuned-in sports fans in the world emailed me Wednesday and said the very same thing. After what this Stars team did in the first two rounds, against higher-seeded, red-hot teams in Anaheim and San Jose, a sweep wouldn’t do their season justice.

No, it’s been one heck of a season, and an even better playoff run. Losing the way Colorado did would have been a disservice to the Stars and their fans.

And don’t think they didn’t know that.

“There’s no worse feeling that getting swept in our building, in front of your fans to send them off from the season like that,” Stars agitator Steve Ott said. “It’s embarrassing to your heart, your determination and to the pride we have in this organization.”

Of course, the game changes a bit when you take the opposition out of their comfort zone.

For most teams – and for the Red Wings the entire series – that comfort zone had been playing with the lead. They had not trailed Dallas at any point in the series, and they did twice in Game 4.

When Loui Eriksson scored late in the second period, the Stars finally had the lead. Even after Henrik Zetterberg tied the game 49 seconds into the third, the Stars had an answer in the form of Modano’s game-winning power-play goal five minutes later.

That forced the Red Wings to play from behind the final 14 minutes.

“We wanted to get a lead and have them chase us instead of us chasing them,” Stars defenseman Stephane Robidas said. “That’s a big difference. Before tonight I think they had maybe seven minutes the whole playoffs where they were trailing, so it was a change for them.”

Pride, a game plan to play with the lead and a general love for a season they don’t want to see end were big reasons the Stars extended this series. There’s also the optimist in them that said, prior to Game 4, that the Wings weren’t at four just yet. And while the well-documented odds show only two of 153 teams down 3-0 have come back to win a series in the Stanley Cup playoffs, the Stars at least wanted to make the Wings know they were in a fight.

A win Saturday in Detroit, resulting in a return trip to Dallas for Game 6, and this series could become just that.

 “No one has told us to go home yet,” Stars center Brad Richards said. “Starting the series we knew we had to win a game in Detroit. It might as well be the next one.”

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