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Stars face first true test of adversity

by John Tranchina / Dallas Stars

They say that the true measure of a champion is how they respond to adversity. 

Well, the Dallas Stars have gotten their first real dose of it in the 2008 Stanley Cup playoffs, down 1-0 in their best-of-seven Western Conference Final series with Detroit following a 4-1 defeat in Game 1 Thursday night at the Joe Louis Arena.

It’s the first time this spring that the Stars have trailed in a series, after they jumped out to 2-0 leads on both Anaheim and San Jose earlier in the post-season. 

“It is different,” said captain Brenden Morrow, who scored the only Dallas goal. “We’ve been able to get the lead in the last two series and it was a big reason we won. Our goal is to come in here and steal one and that’s still there. It’s frustrating.”

Particularly frustrating is that the Stars on this night barely resembled the plucky group that fashioned impressive six-game series victories over the defending Cup champions and the Pacific Division champs in the previous two rounds. Perhaps there was still some mental or physical fatigue lingering from the epic four-overtime battle the Stars won last Sunday to clinch the Sharks series.

“That wasn’t even close to the games we’ve played in the playoffs,” Stars coach Dave Tippett said. “Whether there was some fatigue from that last game, whatever the reason, we didn’t play close to our capabilities. Give the Red Wings all the credit in the world, they did what they had to do to win, but we’ve got to be much better.

“It is disappointing, but when the whole group is like that, we had our top players, they looked down a quart tonight. And we just didn’t skate, just didn’t get to the level we needed to tonight. Whether we left our legs back in Dallas, time will tell, but we’ve got to re-group tomorrow and look to have a much better Game 2.”

“It was a bad game on our part and we know we can play better,” said defenseman Stephane Robidas, who had three shots on goal and was a + 1. “It’s not like we gave our best and they outplayed you and then you’re like, ‘Wow.’  Tonight they outplayed us, but we weren’t really there, we didn’t play our game.”

But the Stars aren’t about to get down about losing one game. They realize that there’s still a lot of hockey left to be played in this series, and now turn their focus to Game 2 here Saturday night (6 pm, VERSUS).

“It’s only 1-0, it takes four to win a series,” Robidas pointed out. “It’s a good wake-up call for us. We got to get ready for the next game, we got to forget about this one. Forget about it but learn from our mistakes at the same time. But that’s what the playoffs are all about, we need four wins, and it’s not over.”

“We’ll adjust, that’s why you have seven games,” added center Mike Ribeiro, who is second in the NHL in playoff assists with 11. “When you lose one, you adjust yourselves and you come back strong and I think that we know what we did well and what we didn’t do well and just regroup as a team, stay confident, better effort, better discipline and just be better on one-on-one battles.”

One of the keys to the victory for Detroit was special teams play, an area that Dallas has excelled at so far this post-season. The Wings scored their first three goals on the power play, the first on a 5-on-3, and enjoyed seven total advantages, four in the first period. At the other end, they killed off all four Stars man-advantages. 

“We didn’t do a good enough job killing penalties,” Morrow said. “Special teams are usually one of our strengths, but tonight it just let us down a little bit.”

“You can’t take penalties like that and expect to stay in games,” said center Brad Richards, who led the Stars with five shots on goal. “They thrive on that power play. They’ve got a lot of skill out there. And every good player, every good team gets confidence when you have power plays and get the puck, handle the puck. And it just got the ball rolling. They’re a tough team to stop when you do that.”

The Stars actually surrendered more power play goals in this one game than they did in the entire San Jose series, killing 23-of-25 Shark advantages in six-plus contests. Either way, the key is to not give the Red Wings the power plays in the first place, and most of the infractions the Stars were guilty of was due to being a step behind all night.

“That’s a result of being behind in the game, just being behind,” Tippett said, although he did question the roughing call on rookie defenseman Mark Fistric that gave Detroit a two-man advantage at 4:19 of the first period and led directly to Brian Rafalski’s opening goal nine seconds later. “The penalty that put us down 5-on-3, that’s a pretty harsh penalty if you want to set a tone for a series, so that is what it is. But the other ones, the hooking, holding, they’re just from getting behind.” 

“We need to have better discipline,” Robidas said. “If we don’t skate with them, we won’t compete with them. We can’t give those guys chances on the power play. They are too skilled and we just can’t do it. They scored three on the power play and that was basically the game.”

The Stars were a little miffed, also, that a goaltender interference penalty was not called on Tomas Holmstrom when he backed into Turco in the crease before Nicklas Lidstrom’s wrist shot deflected off his knee and over Turco’s shoulder to make it 3-0 at 6:40 of the second period. If that goal doesn’t count, Dallas is still just down two and might have a better opportunity to mount a comeback starting on the resulting power play.

“The third goal - we were told that if there was going to be a player in the blue paint, that would be no goal,” Tippett said.  “Obviously, that didn’t happen. When they’re in the blue paint, our goaltender’s supposed to have the ability to do his job. The third goal, that wasn’t the case.”

“On the third one, I just thought my ability to come out in my blue (was impaired),” Turco said. “I’m not an aggressive angle guy, I’ll generally stay inside my crease. We were told that we have every ability to do anything inside the blue, and I just thought that was not necessarily interference, but I would think would be waved off, just not letting me do it, but the shot was coming at me, he tipped it right off me in a small little spot, and you have to give him credit for that.”

The Stars conceded that the close physical contact in the crease would likely continue throughout the series, so they’ll just have to adapt their game plan accordingly.

“That’s just playoff hockey,” Turco shrugged. “They did that in the regular season, (Holmstrom)’s done that his whole career, and they’re going to continue to do it. It’s something that I know, as a team and personally, I know we can overcome that, just foul him a little before he comes to the net.”

“That’s part of the game, you got to find a way to block those shots,” Robidas said. “It’s hard to get them out of the way, though, because once they get possession, you can’t really move them, you can’t really cross-check them like in the past. So we got to look at video and try and learn from it and go back at it Saturday.”

The next game will hopefully be the one where the Stars re-establish their game and get back to playing the way they have for the past month or so. Down for the first time this spring, their performance Saturday night in Game 2 will go a long way towards defining the tone of the rest of this series.

“We have to get skating. Before you can talk about any tactics or anything else, we’ve got to get our legs moving,” Tippett said when asked what the Stars would do differently. “We did a lot of standing in that game tonight. And that’s the bottom line. Before you can evaluate how you’re playing, you’ve got to get moving. You have to get engaged in the game. Whether it’s fatigue or whatever the reason tonight, we just weren’t at the level we needed to be.”

“They didn’t do anything that we didn’t expect out there,” Turco said. “It was probably a little bit closer, you know, with power play goals going in, than you realize. But it’s something we do need to re-group, talk about some things, and as a team, just make whatever adjustments are necessary. But it’s going to come down to each and every guy to doing their part. And 5-on-5, stay out of the box, work our talented power play a little better - we’ll be all right.”

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