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O'Callahan: It's Van!

by Staff Writer / Dallas Stars

By Shamus O'Callahan

Hockey Historian

Well, I don't know about you, but I'm pretty excited about the match-up of Stars-Canucks in the first round. It should be a fun series and it could go the distance as both teams are evenly matched.

I guess you can say that about all four series in the West for the first round. There truly will not be any "upsets." The word simply does not exist with these eight teams. They're all very good and capable of winning the conference.

Starting on the road might do wonders for the Stars. Now they can concentrate on the task at hand and nothing else (no distractions). This team is a good road squad and has shown that they can come through in big moments away from home. They'll need to, obviously, if they want to win this series.

Game One is vital for several reasons. The plan for the road team in a series is to "steal" one of the first two games away from home, snatching home ice advantage and getting a good start to the series. But I think the Stars will probably have to win more than one game in Vancouver. The Canucks are too good to envision them losing all three games in Dallas.

If the Stars can draw first blood, Game Two is there for the taking with all of the pressure on Vancouver to win. That's a recipe all Stars fans can live with. The other thing that worries me about this series is Canucks goalie Roberto Luongo getting on a roll and riding it all the way through the series. The Stars cannot let Luongo off the hook in any situation, especially in Game One. If a guy has an open net for a split second, he has to hit the net. Rebounds in front, get to them. Quality, not quanity, is the key. (But if the Stars want to build up a quantity of quality shots, that's fine with me). Luongo, like most good goalies, feed off more action. He actually likes more shots than less so he can get in his rhythm. The Stars need to make sure that a few of those shots get behind him so that rhythm is non-existent.

Did you know that the Stars have lost Game One in seven of Dallas' last eight playoff series, including each of the last five? The Stars have still managed to win a few of those series but they've always been in 6 or 7 games. A loss in Game One of a series instantly puts the team behind the proverbial 8-Ball and can end up chasing the opponent for much of the remainder of the series.

Coach Tippett knows this better than anyone, and you can bet he'll be making "priority one" for the Stars: win Game One. The goal for the first part of the series is a split, but achieve that minimum in Game One and now the other team is the one chasing the series.

Here's a stat for you: the Stars are 8-1 in series in which they win Game One since coming to Texas in 1993. That's no accident.

Speaking of stats, I dug up another gem. All you ever hear about is Luongo when the topic of the Vancouver Canucks comes up (and rightfully so). He's arguably the best goaltender in the conference and perhaps the league. Luongo's numbers against the Stars this season are excellent: a 1.46 GAA with a .951 save percentage. But the "gem" stat I'm talking about belongs to Marty Turco in the same season series: a 0.96 GAA with a .959 save percentage against the Canucks.

Now everyone is going to be talking about goalies in this series, and they will indeed be a key. But perhaps the bigger key in the series is the Dallas offense. If they can be productive, manufacture goals and get a lead (and build on it), it will take the pressure off the defense and Marty and simply let them play. Vancouver's penalty killing unit is the best in the league at 87.5%, especially at home. Dallas needs to move the puck with the man-advantage and get some screens set up in front of Luongo and simply find a way to crack it. If the Stars can do their share of damage on the power play, I like their chances in this series.

All of the focus is on the road right now because that's where this series starts. But let's not forget that there are two big home games coming up right after and Stars fans need to be ready to do their part. Inside word has Game Three on Sunday night, April 15, with Game Four on Tuesday, April 17. Stars marketing tells me that there are still tickets available for the games. Fans -- the boys need you. Get your tickets and be ready to go next Sunday. We are the home ice advantage and need to be there to make a difference. And there honestly is no better time to come to a Stars game. This is the best time of year for hockey!

But it all starts with Game One, probably played on Wednesday night. So let's win it and get these playoffs off on the right foot.

I'll have my playoff predictions coming soon, so please keep logging on. I'm looking forward to helping bring you the best playoff coverage on the net.

The thoughts, opinions and statements made in this column are by the writer and do not necessarily reflect the thoughts of the Dallas Stars or



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