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Reason to Believe

by J. Douglas Foster / Dallas Stars

On the Road with Dotcom

At the end of every hard earned day people find some reason to believe – Bruce Springsteen

If you’ve doubted, at any point, that this could be a special season – and one that potentially ends the Stars’ four-year drought without a playoff series victory – here, at the 58-game mark, we’re prepared to put your mind at ease.

Since the all-star break, the signs of potential playoff success have been plentiful. This week, we’ll examine just why it appears there is good to come this spring.

Here’s our “reasons to believe.”

Since the all-star break, no skater on the Stars’ roster has been more dominant than captain Brenden Morrow.

Sure, Mike Ribeiro has continued to be his usual, crafty self, piling up the points seemingly every night as he did prior to earning his first all-star appearance. But it’s Morrow who has been impossible for opponents to handle of late.

Just look at his last 10 games. Seven goals, four assists, 28 shots-on-goal and 30 hits during the stretch. He’s a beast in front of the opposing net, hits as hard as players twice his size and is proving that he’s got hands to match his grit. Some shifts, Morrow simply will not be denied getting into scoring position, and when there, he’s made plays that belie his tough-as-nails reputation.

In clutch times, you look for leaders to lead. Nobody is fighting to be at the front of the charge right now more than Morrow, and that’s a very good thing. One has to believe his game is just getting primed for the postseason.

While Morrow has been the best skater, the Stars have recently realized what they knew all last year – that they have two top-notch goaltenders, and the No. 1 guy is leading the way.

Clearly, Turco is hungry for another shot at the Stanley Cup.

Coming out of the break, all he has done is win four straight games, posting a 1.72 goals-against average and a .942 save percentage. He’s looked like the elite goaltender we’ve known him to be since he broke into the league in 2000-01, and he’s even starting to look a lot like the guy who posted three shutouts in last year’s first-round playoff series against Vancouver.

Equally as exciting is the way backup Mike Smith responded Thursday night in Minnesota with Turco out because of a neck injury. There’s always the possibility that something could happen to your starter, and Smith showed the Wild that, if called upon, he can dominate as well. His 25-save shutout – the fifth of his career – was nothing short of stellar, and his point-blank pad save on Minnesota’s Marian Gaborik was as good as you’ll see all year.

Don’t be surprised if, in the season’s final 24 games, Dallas proves to have the league’s best goaltending tandem.

In three of the last four seasons, Jere Lehtinen has led the Stars in goals. In the last five seasons, he’s been first or second on the team in goals in four of them.

And then there’s the three Selke Trophies, proof of his defensive prowess.

Yep, Jere Lehtinen is a pretty important player. And as tough as it was to lose him for 33 games with a sports hernia, the timing of his return couldn’t be better.

He still hasn’t had one of his patented goal streaks, which come at least twice a year, when he rattles off goals in four straight and scores six in 10 games. And despite his injury he’s not that far off from being a point-per-game player this season (with 21 points in 25 games). As he gets re-acclimated to the Stars lineup, watch for Lehtinen to hit his stride in the final 15 games.

If he does, mark that down as another serious offensive weapon for the Stars.

There was a time when the thought of playing without Sergei Zubov was basically a death sentence for the Stars.

But oh, how this defensive corps has stepped up in his absence.

The obvious contribution has come from veterans Stephane Robidas and Mattias Norstrom, who have had to take on even bigger roles without Zubov. They’ve also grabbed some of the offensive responsibility, with Robidas registering three goals and an assist and Norstrom dishing out four helpers in the nine games without Zubov.

But not to be overlooked is how quickly the Stars’ three rookie defensemen – Matt Niskanen, Nicklas Grossman and Mark Fistric – have adapted.

The most noticeable stance has been taken by Niskanen, second in the league among rookie defensemen with a +14 rating and a virtual lock for the league’s all-rookie team. But most of the season, he’s played alongside Zubov. Without him, he’s simply seen his ice time increase by nearly five minutes per game, yet hasn’t let the increased time lead to increased chance for mistakes in his own zone. He’s been just as calm, responsible and productive as he was before losing his defensive partner, a sign of good things to come for several years.

Nobody around the team can seem to remember a time when three rookie defensemen all played on a Stars squad. The thought of having this trio around for years is certainly exciting.

Now, just imagine what happens when Zubov returns …

Things are certainly different around Stars camp since Les Jackson and Brett Hull took over as co-general managers. The mood is sometimes lighter, but certainly no less focused.

In fact, this new mindset could be just what the Stars need come April. Hey, as a player Hull always seemed cool, calm and relaxed, yet you could never doubt his focus and determination when the game was on the line. He’s the same while sitting at the front of the plane. Combine that with Jackson – a diligent worker with a firm grasp of what’s most important for a team’s mindset, and a man who never loses sight of the forest because of the trees – and you just may have the perfect recipe for playoff leadership.

Yes, it’s an exciting time right now in Stars land. Just look at the facts – laid out in front of you – and decide for yourself.

Do you have reason to believe?

I certainly do.

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