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Stars Flourishing with Total Team Concept

by Ken Sins / Dallas Stars

Marty Turco’s had a monster playoff, erasing any doubts that he can handle post-season pressure. Captain Brenden Morrow’s inspired play has earned early Conn Smythe Trophy buzz.

First-line center Mike Ribeiro paces the Stars with 14 points (three goals, 11 assists), second-line center Brad Richards has made an impact with two goals and nine assists, and checking line center Mike Modano is playing like he’s turned back the clock 10 years. On the blue line, Stephane Robidas, Mattias Norstrom, Nicklas Grossman, Sergei Zubov, Trevor Daley and  Mark Fistric are all logging major minutes.

But that’s not all. Lesser-known names are also responsible for Dallas’ surprising playoff run. And they must continue to pull their weight if the Stars are to be competitive against the talent-laden Detroit Red Wings in the Western Conference final that opens Thursday night at Joe Louis Arena.

Take Sunday night’s four-overtime marathon that eliminated the San Jose Sharks. Yes, Turco was spectacular with a club record 61 saves. Sure, Morrow tapped in the game-winner off a setup by Robidas, Morrow’s second overtime clincher in the series.

A deeper inspection of the stat sheet reveals a few more subtle contributions, however. Antti Miettinen’s second-period goal gave the Stars early momentum. Fourth-line center Toby Petersen, who was in the minor leagues about two months ago, stepped in to pick up much of injured veteran Stu Barnes’ ice time, and the Stars didn’t miss a beat. Loui Eriksson drew the penalty in the fourth OT that led to Morrow’s power-play goal. Eriksson’s also chipped in with three goals and three assists in the playoffs.

On defense, injuries to Zubov and Philippe Boucher have meant expanded opportunities for rookies Grossman, Fistric and Matt Niskanen.

So far, these lesser lights among the Stars haven’t wilted under the pressure.

“Look at teams that win the Cup, you need contributions from everybody, not one or two guys or one line or four defensemen,’’ Robidas said. “It’s the whole team. Everybody has to be ready and understand their roles, do what they do best and bring it to the table every night. That’s what’s happened with us in the playoffs, why we won the first two rounds. The only way we can go further, everybody has to chip in.’’

Dallas has used 22 players in the first 12 playoff games. The Stars have goals from 14 different players and two or more points from 15. By comparison, the Red Wings have received goals from 12 different sources and have two points or more from 13.

These are balanced teams that rely on contributions from up and down the lineup.

“That's huge, especially this time of year,’’ Morrow said. “We've had injuries, but everyone goes through it. The more depth we have, the more guys we have contributing on the scoreboard, it makes us that much better. We have three lines that we think are top-notch, that can score, so you can't focus on one line. So far it's worked well for us.''

To this point, the Stars have thrived as underdogs. Here they are again, trying to match up with a team that is loaded with world-class skill.

“Nobody picked us in the two previous series either,’’ Modano said. “That's no surprise to us, that we're not favored. That's just the way it's been. We weren't even favored the year after we won the Stanley Cup. That's how the media has perceived our team.''

Detroit has been led in the playoffs by Johan Franzen’s 11 goals, followed by Henrik Zetterberg (seven goals, six assists) and Pavel Datsyuk (five goals, eight assists).

The Red Wings’ top two lines are a matchup nightmare.

“They hold onto pucks, don't throw too many away,’’ Morrow said. “They battle hard, they cycle. They're not real big guys but they're strong on their skates. The amount of time you're in your own zone trying to get the puck away from them, that's what makes them special.

“You can't stop them but you've got to slow them down a little bit. We're not the puck possession team that they are. But we're going to try to play the puck in their zone. They can't hurt you when they're 200 feet from our goal. So we're going to try to cycle pucks, get pucks deep every chance we get to wear them down in their zone.’’

There’s no sense of awe in the Dallas locker room.

“You can’t go in like that,’’ Robidas said. “Yes, they're good, but if we play our game and play hard, we can frustrate them and make it hard for them. They obviously have a great team with a lot of skill and good coaching. But we have a good team too and we have to realize that. We're confident in ourselves and like our chances.’’

Two injured Stars – Barnes (concussion-like symptoms) and defenseman Philippe Boucher (hip) – skated lightly before boarding the team charter to Detroit on Wednesday. Coach Dave Tippett termed both players “doubtful’’ for Game 1.

Starting a series in a hostile environment is nothing new for the Stars. They opened on the road in the first two rounds, and Dallas came away with a pair of away wins in Anaheim and San Jose to take control of both series.

The Stars are adept at turning a negative into a positive.

“The atmosphere in the playoffs, both teams feed off of it, get energized by it, whether you're getting cheered or getting booed and heckled,’’ Morrow said. “You relish quieting the fans down. Going into Hockeytown, it's the same way. They've got good fans there who've had a lot to cheer about. It's a tough place to play.

“But that’s the way it’s been the first two series. Nobody expected us to win except the guys in here. We don't mind that. The pressure's on them and that's kind of a nice thing.''
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