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Stars Knew This Wouldn't be Easy

by Ken Sins / Dallas Stars

A four-game sweep would have been nice, but realistically the Stars weren’t expecting the Sharks to begin summer vacation without a fight. San Jose didn’t win 11 straight down the stretch to surpass Dallas in the Pacific Division standings by accident. This is a big, deep and talented bunch.

The Stars are well aware that the Sharks could be in the driver’s seat if a few bounces would have gone San Jose’s way in the first three games.

“It's a fine line,’’ Stars center Brad Richards said. “They could be even with us or ahead. We won twice in overtime. So we're very fortunate to be where we are. But I like where we are. We’re in a great spot.’’

The Stars lost the special-teams battle on Wednesday night, so this series returns to San Jose for Game 5 on Friday night.

San Jose got a second-period shorthanded goal from Patrick Marleau, and then scored the game-winner on a Milan Michalek power-play goal at 3:26 of the third period for a 2-1 victory as the Sharks dodged the four-game sweep.

The Stars know they can win in a hostile environment. They took the first two games of the series in San Jose and are 4-1 on the road in these playoffs.

“We feel like we can win on their ice,’’ Stars defenseman Stephane Robidas said. “That’s for sure. But they’ve shown heart and we have to be ready for a big challenge. We're happy to be in this position, but we know it's not over. We have one more to win and it'll be the toughest one.

You don't want to give them life. We gave them momentum a little bit. The sooner we can close them out, it'll be better for us.’’

The Stars have been very good on special teams throughout these playoffs, entering Wednesday night with 13 goals in 49 power-play chances (26.5 percent, third in the league). The Stars’ penalty kill has also been a plus, stopping 30-of-36 opposing power plays (83.3 percent, sixth in the NHL).

But the Sharks were just a little better on special teams in Game 4, converting one-of-six power play chances and killing off all four Stars power plays.

“We have to be a little more disciplined, stay out of the penalty box and make our chances on the power play count,’’ Robidas said. “Special teams have been the story of the playoffs. The games we've won and the ones we've lost, it's been a big, big factor. It's always like that in the playoffs.’’

Dallas was guilty of five stick penalties, and one delay-of-game on Mike Modano that led to the game-winner.

“Both teams played tight hockey,’’ Stars right wing Jere Lehtinen said. “It was a one-goal game. We'll be all right if we correct our mistakes.’’

The Stars entered the night with a 19-5 playoff edge in the third period and overtime, but this time the Sharks came up with the final-period marker to extend the series.

San Jose, backed into a desperate situation, took control early in the final period. The delay call against Modano for shooting the puck over the boards gave San Jose the man-advantage, and Michalek cashed in off a centering pass from Joe Thornton.

Dallas faced three power plays in the first period, and the Stars’ penalty killers were superb, holding San Jose to a total of one shot on goal. In fact, the Stars had the best scoring chances on the three penalty kills with Evgeni Nabokov having to come with big saves on  Modano and Lehtinen.

But facing all those early power plays took some of the starch out of the Stars’ top-end players, who are also their best penalty killers. Dallas also missed veteran forward Stu Barnes, a top penalty killer who sat out the game after getting his bell rung in Game 3.

“We took too many penalties,’’ Richards said. “It was a parade to the box to start the game. If we can control that, we'll be okay.’’

San Jose had the first five shots of the second period, but the Sharks also were guilty of a huge error when Devin Setoguchi flipped a blind breakout pass up the middle of his zone that ended up on the stick of Lehtinen, who buried the chance from the slot at 5:25.

Richards hit the corner of the cage with a blast that nearly gave Dallas a 2-0 lead, but the Sharks seized momentum seconds later when Marleau turned Zubov’s errant pass into a breakaway shorthanded goal at 9:19 to tie it at 1.

Zubov also had a turnover in Game 3 that led to a Marleau shorthanded goal, but Zubov scored later in that game to atone for that miscue. Not this time.

“Those are uncharacteristic mistakes by Zubie,’’ Stars coach Dave Tippett said. “He's got to clean those up.’’

The Stars fly to San Jose on Thursday in a quick turnaround for the third game in four nights.

“Winning the first three and you're at home, you like to close it out,’’ Stars goaltender Marty Turco said. “Back to back was tough on both clubs. But I don't think we ever thought we were going to win four straight against these guys. We just didn't have the magic tonight.’’

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