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Stars Are Making This a Series

by Ken Sins / Dallas Stars

Now the Stars have the Red Wings’ attention.

The Stars have also earned some respect from the rest of the NHL after rallying from a three games to none deficit to win two straight over the team considered by most as the favorite to hoist the Stanley Cup.

There’s this feeling in the Stars locker room that they can beat the Wings again in Game 6 on Monday night at the AAC and push these Western Conference finals to the limit on Wednesday night at Joe Louis Arena.

“I think that's crept into all of us a little bit,’’ Stars captain Brenden Morrow said. “It's building. We're getting a little more of that feeling. None of us will be content just to make a series out of it. We want to win this thing.’’

How has Dallas climbed back into this series? For one thing, the Stars have proven to themselves that they belong on the same ice with Detroit.

“The first three games, anything they tried to do, they basically could,’’ Morrow said. “Pucks were getting deflected in, they were making the easy plays out of their zone, they were dipsy-doing through the neutral zone. A lot of that was us kind of watching them instead of playing them hard.’’

The Stars still face a difficult climb. NHL teams have been able to haul themselves out of 3-0 holes to win best-of-7 series only twice in 153 attempts. The last team to accomplish that feat was the 1975 New York Islanders, who rallied to shock the Pittsburgh Penguins.

But now the improbable is looking a little more realistic.

“We're still in the same situation,’’ Stars coach Dave Tippett said. “The last two games, our situation hasn't changed.  We have to win to continue to play.  You recognize some of the things you did well, take them into Game 6, try to repeat some of those, clean up some of the errors we had. But the bottom line is, the all?out effort has to be there.  There is no tomorrow for us.  That won't change in Game 6.’’

Over the first three games, the Stars seemed to be dazzled by the Red Wings’ collection of world-class skill players. No more. In the last two games, Dallas has done a better job of neutralizing that skill, especially the checking line of Toby Petersen, Loui Eriksson and Joel Lundqvist.

“At the start, you look at their skill and their numbers and how they dominate games,’’ Stars center Mike Modano said after Sunday’s light practice in Frisco. “You’re cautious to the point where you can’t play. You’re not aggressive, you’re not initiating things. The last two games it’s been totally opposite. We’re making the plays, not worried about the consequences, playing loose and having fun. If you’re going to go down, go down swinging.’’

Tippett thought the Red Wings’ dominance in the first three games was as much about what the Stars weren’t doing.

“They were doing that because we weren't skating,’’ Tippett said. “Early in the series, we didn't skate near as well as we had in the series before.  We were chasing the game a lot.  If you look at Game 1, what happened, we got behind real early and we were chasing the game.  Game 2, we were around the game, but it seemed like we were chasing it, losing a lot of faceoffs.  We lost a lot of energy, more chasing than doing anything else. I think as the series has gone on, we've been able to win a few more of the battles, get a little more puck time the last couple games.  We've actually played with the lead a little bit.  It's helped our group push forward a little more, use the energy in probably a more positive focus.’’

Petersen, who spent most of the season at the Stars’ minor league affiliate in Iowa, has been a most pleasant surprise, taking over the checking role from Stu Barnes, still out with concussion-like symptoms. Petersen and his linemates have been effective at neutralizing Detroit’s skilled superstars Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg.

“The one thing that Petersen, Lundqvist and Eriksson do, they all play the game pretty fast,’’ Tippett said.  “Zetterberg and Datsyuk, they were playing faster than we were able to keep up to.  So we decided to throw those guys against them, see if we could at least calm them down a little bit. Those guys are great players.  They're going to get great chances in the game.  You’re never going to stop them. But if you have some people that can go at least at the same pace as they are, it gives you a better chance.’’

Turco needed a good night’s sleep to recover from Saturday’s first career win in Detroit as he ended a 0-9-2 drought in Motown. Turco has been outstanding over the last two games, stopping 71 of 73 shots to keep the Stars afloat.

In the first three games of the series, Turco yielded 11 goals with a 3.69 goals-against average, allowing five goals on 21 shots in Game 3. But in the last two games, Turco has been more assertive at playing the puck, one of his strong suits, and was credited with an assist on Lundqvist’s goal on Saturday with a long breakout pass.

“He was very aggressive,’’ Modano said. “He didn’t second-guess, he wasn’t hesitant and that’s a good sign.’’

Said Turco: “I’d never won there but I haven't heard anybody say I couldn't do it, I just hadn't.  There wasn't any better time than yesterday.’’

In the last two games, Turco’s teammates have done a far better job of keeping the front of the net clear of crease-crasher Tomas Holmstrom, allowing Turco to see the puck. The Stars expect the Wings to be back in Turco’s face for Game 6.

“Well, I think they're probably still trying to get traffic in front of Marty,’’ Morrow said.  “But we've done a little better job boxing them out and letting Marty see the puck.  Holmstrom is going to get to the front, the net, sooner or later. We're not going to be able to completely shut that down.  There's probably been a little more focus on it.’’

The Stars will once again be without Barnes, right wing Jere Lehtinen (leg), and defensemen Philippe Boucher (shoulder) and Mark Fistric (mono).

Boucher and Fistric were on the ice on Sunday. Barnes is still having recurring headaches.

“Fistric skated, which is a positive thing, and Boucher continues to make progress,’’ Tippett said. “Barnes is going to have to have three or four days symptom-free before he can play. He has one good day, one bad day, you don't want to put a player in a situation like that.’’

The Stars are anticipating a raucous crowd for Game 6. This is the deepest the team has gone since 2000, and based on the last two games, another trip to the finals isn’t out of the question.

“We've felt if we could get Game 6 at home, it would be a whole different animal,’’ Modano said. “And then, who knows what can happen Wednesday in Detroit? But we don't want to get ahead of ourselves. We knew it would be an uphill battle. Nobody picked us to win this thing from the start. The last couple games, we've found a way to win. We know the odds are against us. But you never say never until the final buzzer goes.’’

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