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Power Play Revival Helps Stars Stay Alive

by John Tranchina / Dallas Stars

For two rounds of the 2008 playoffs, the Dallas Stars leaned a lot on their power play unit to help produce goals and contribute to several victories, but in the first three games of the Western Conference Finals, that magic seemed to dry up just a bit.

But in Game 4 Wednesday night at the American Airlines Center, the Stars once again got the power play clicking and it provided the deciding goal by Mike Modano, off a nice pass from Sergei Zubov, at 5:35 of the third period en route to a 3-1 triumph over the Red Wings to stave off elimination.

After erupting for six goals in the first two games of the post-season against Anaheim on the way to a franchise-record-tying 10 in that series, the Stars added five more against San Jose in round two, including the series-clinching tally in the fourth overtime of Game 6 by captain Brenden Morrow

Heading into the Conference Finals, the Stars’ 15 goals led the NHL, and at 15-for-60, owned a stellar 25 percent conversion rate and ranked tops among the teams remaining in the playoffs.

But through three games of frustration with the extra man against Detroit, the Stars had collected just one goal on 15 opportunities while also allowing a shorthanded goal. After failing to capitalize on their first three chances in the first period Wednesday, the power play came alive just in time with the game on the line in the third period.

“It was huge,” said defenseman Stephane Robidas of the PP unit, which ended up 1-for-4 in Game 4. “Zubie made a nice feed to Mo and it was a big, big goal for us. That’s something that we need to get going, that’s something that’s won us hockey games in the first two rounds. We all know how important special teams, PK and power play, and that’s something that we’ve been pretty good at all year, and it’s something that was lacking in the first three games and tonight, it was much better. We got the winning goal on the power play, so it was huge.”

Coach Dave Tippett pinpointed the power play unit as an area the Stars could improve upon to get back in the series and it came through.

“You look at things happening, what could you do better?” Tippett asked. “Your power play could be better, all of a sudden, boom, it is. That gives you a surge.”

“We’re trying to do the same kind of thing (as in the previous series),” added Stars assistant coach Ulf Dahlen, who is in charge of the man-advantage unit. “We’re looking for momentum and overall in the playoffs, in the first and second series, it really gave us a lot of momentum, but it hasn’t done that a lot in this series so far. The goal was pretty big that we got tonight. The guys are working and a goal like that can really get the whole thing going and that’s what we’re looking for.”

In trying to determine what changed in this round of the playoffs, the Stars acknowledge that the Red Wings’ penalty killing is maybe a little more aggressive than the Ducks and Sharks were, but also that their execution wasn’t quite as good. 

“They’re not killing exactly like the other teams, but it’s a lot of similarities,” Dahlen said. “We just going to keep trying just to look for momentum and usually when you work to get momentum and you get that, good things will happen.”

“We’ve been struggling a little bit on the power play,” Modano said. “It hasn’t been really working out for us as far as the plays and things opening up. They’re really good at anticipating things and shutting down lanes, really clogging things up. And you don’t get many second or third chances on them, too.”

But now, with the Stars facing elimination for the first time this post-season, that additional desperation may have been enough to spur them to success.

“We probably played a little more desperate, we know there is no tomorrow,” said Robidas, who has manned the point on the second unit since Zubov returned to the lineup against San Jose. “It could have been our last game of the season, our backs are against the wall, and that’s how we have to play - we have to play with desperation and if you don’t play desperate against a team that’s highly-skilled and desperate at the same time, it’s hard to win hockey games.”

On the big goal, Brad Richards controlled the puck along the blue line, fed Zubov deep in the left face-off circle, and with captain Brenden Morrow provding a screen in front, Modano set up in the high slot. Zubov slid a deft pass to Modano, who then drilled a scorching one-timer that beat Red Wings goaltender Chris Osgood over the shoulder.

“We were able to get it set up finally,” Modano said. “Zubov down low on that side is someone that can really thread the needle, find the open guy. Once it came down to him, I was able to get off a little bit, get the shot off before (Detroit penalty killer Kris) Draper came behind me.”

“Sometimes when things aren’t going your way, you try to do a little more and sometimes less is more,” Robidas noted. “I think that was the difference tonight. Don’t get me wrong, it was a beautiful play that we made, but it was a nice pass and shoot, don’t try - it was nothing fancy. It was a nice play by Zubie and Mo just ripped it.”

Now, with that goal on their fourth opportunity of the night, the Stars have regained a little bit of confidence in their power play and hope the success can carry over into Game 5 Saturday afternoon in Detroit (12:30pm start, NBC), which is still a must-win.

“You just keep plugging away and now, we got a huge one tonight, it ended up being the winning goal, so next game, hopefully, we can draw some confidence off that,” Richards said. 

One other alteration that helped spark the Stars in Game 4 was some line juggling from Tippett. 

With winger Jere Lehtinen missing his second straight game with a leg injury, Tippett moved Antti Miettinen up to his place on the top line with Morrow and Mike Ribeiro, and paired up Richards and Modano together, with Niklas Hagman, on a second scoring line. That left Loui Eriksson, Joel Lundqvist and Toby Petersen to act as the Stars’ checking line against the dangerous Detroit trio of Henrik Zetterberg, Pavel Datsyuk and Tomas Holmstrom.

Getting the top line with Ribeiro and Morrow away from the Zetterberg line made a definite difference offensively, as Morrow scored the line’s first 5-on-5 goal of the series late in the third period to give Dallas a little breathing room.

“With the injuries we have, we’re trying to give ourselves a chance with a little extra offense,” Tippett said. “There’s less guys available so you’ve got to clump them together.”

“We wanted to get some balance and scoring on the other two lines and have Petey and them play against Zetterberg, so we can get away from Lidstrom, the scoring lines and the defensive lines,” Richards explained. “They did a good job, they ended up scoring a goal, and Mo got a goal on the power play, Brenden and the other line ended up scoring even strength, so it worked out pretty good tonight.”

Steve Ott was moved up to the top line later in the contest, and played a key role on the Morrow goal, occupying space in front and screening Osgood.

“My thing is get them the puck and go to the net and get in the way,” Ott said. “Brenden made a great shot, Ribby made a great pass to get it to him. Any time you lose a Jere Lehtinen, you lose a Stu Barnes, it’s very crucial to the team chemistry in the lineup and I think you can’t really replace those guys, you can just work hard and try to fulfill a need that’s there and for myself, whoever it is that has to go in there and fill that void, and that’s what we did tonight.”

They’ll have to do it again Saturday afternoon in order keep the Stars alive and extend the series back to Dallas for a Game 6 on Monday.

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