Pick your favorite cliché to describe the Stars' desperate situation against the Canucks heading until Thursday night's Game 5 in Vancouver.Among the most repeated phrases in the Stars' locker room at the Frisco practice rink on Wednesday afternoon: No room for error, win or go home, backs against the wall, one game at a time, leave it all on the ice.
Each phase applies. The Stars are on the wrong side of a three-games-to-one deficit for the eighth time since their move to Dallas prior to the 1993-94 season. They've never been able to climb out of that deep a hole, or even force a Game 7, in any of the previous seven series when they faced such a deficit.
But this isn't Mission Impossible. The Stars played well in the opening two games in Vancouver, dropping the first game in quadruple overtime and winning the second 2-0 to gain the desired split.
"It's not the most daunting task in the world," Stars goaltender Marty Turco said. "It's on the hard side, but it's very doable for this group against this team. We've been all about laying it on the line. That has to come out now more than ever. We can play better, and we have to. It's now or never."
The series has gone sour for the Stars because they continue to stumble in Dallas, losing on American Airlines Center ice for the sixth straight time (one short of the NHL record for consecutive home playoff losses) on Tuesday night, 2-1.
Comebacks from such deficits do occasionally happen in the NHL, however, as Stars center Mike Ribeiro can attest.
In 2004, Ribeiro's Montreal Canadiens were down three games to one to the Boston Bruins in their Eastern Conference playoff series. Somehow, the Canadiens got off the deck and rallied to win the series.
Ribeiro will tell the story of how the Canadiens managed their miracle comeback to any of his teammates interested in listening. "Boston was a pretty good team, but we battled through and kept believing that we could come back," Ribeiro said. "We played a simplified game and took it one period at a time. Once you win Game 5, the pressure goes to them to close the series. You're just playing and they've got the pressure to finish it out.
"The thing is, you don't want to think about winning three games, you just worry about the next one. You don't want to look ahead too far. They want to finish at home, they don't want to come back here. It's a momentum game. We can get it back. Then you come back and win here, and then Game 7, you never know."
This has been a series of close shaves for the Stars. As coach Dave Tippett points out, "Look at the score of the series. It's 9-8 and we're down three to one. It's one play, one more save, one more screen on a power play."
Ribeiro came within inches of the tying goal with less than three minutes left on Tuesday night. The near-miss went to replay, which revealed that the puck never fully crossed the goal line before it was swept away by the long stick of former Stars defenseman Willie Mitchell.
Turco has been stellar, standing third in the league among playoff goalies with a 1.67 goals-against and fourth in save percentage at .943. The trouble is, his counterpart, Roberto Luongo, has been even better: second in the league with a 1.49 goals-against and first in save percentage at .950.
The Stars have had plenty of power-play opportunities. They just haven't cashed in, going 2-for-25 with the man advantage. Two of their top scoring threats, Mike Modano and Jere Lehtinen, have gone without a goal in the first four games.
Captain Brenden Morrow says his team needs to play looser. For the most part, the effort has been there. The problem in many cases has been between the players' ears.
During the regular season, the Stars thrived on adversity. They were able to grind out one-goal wins and put the pressure on eventual division winner Anaheim with a 12-2-2 finish. But in Game 4, the Stars were jittery in the first period, in stark contrast to the confident team that would often jump on an opponent early during the regular season.
"We played the last few games almost scared to lose than going out and playing to win," Morrow said. "We've been so successful in the third period with the lead during the regular season. I don't think we've played our best hockey until they've scored their first goal. That seems to light a spark under us. We need to have that right from the drop of the puck. We don't pick up the pace, we don't pick up our emotional level until it's too late. Right now it's all about emotion."
Morrow says everyone in the locker room needs to raise his game, with the exception of Turco.
"Marty is the only one who gets a free ride, the only one that's performed," Morrow said. "We have to play more desperate."
Morrow wants his team to be more aggressive from the opening faceoff on Thursday night at GM Place.
"Where we've lacked is our forecheck," Morrow said. "We've got one guy going in, but our other two guys are thinking and hesitating, maybe thinking 'defend' too much. A lot of times we're thinking so much about defending the goal and not going out and getting that goal."
Morrow admits that Luongo may have gotten into the heads of the Stars.
"So far I think he has been, yeah," Morrow said. "But we also scored four against him in the first game so he's beatable. The secret is getting traffic. There's going to be rebounds. We've got to work to get at those rebounds."
The Stars must clear their heads of all the negatives and concentrate on stealing another game in Vancouver.
"This team hasn't quit all year and I don't expect it to quit anytime soon," Stars center Jeff Halpern said. "It's been a very close series," added Halpern's linemate Stu Barnes. "It could easily be 2-2 or the other way around in our favor. You have to fight through the frustration and focus on winning this next game and going from there."
Tippett summed up the situation this way: "Desperate times, desperate measures. You've got to embrace the situation. That's why you play the game. The bigger the moment, the better the reward. Jump out there and play, simple as that.
"We've played well there, Marty's played well there, those are encouraging signs. We pride ourselves on our hard work and our will to win. We've just done it on the road more than at home lately."
Stars left wing Jussi Jokinen didn't make the trip to Vancouver after sustaining an "upper-body injury" in Tuesday night's game.
Forward Eric Lindros (groin) has been out since March 9, but he could be on the active roster. Lindros would give the Stars a big body in front of the net that they've been lacking thus far in the series.