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Stars playoff drive still alive in Buffalo

by Bob Matuszak / Dallas Stars

AMHERST, N.Y. -- With their postseason hopes on the line, the Stars are refusing to let go.

Thanks to a resurrected power play coupled with a gritty and record-breaking performance by veteran goalie Marty Turco, the Stars shrugged off a two-goal deficit Monday night in Washington against the league-leading and high-scoring Capitals to secure a shootout win that shot them right back in the race for the final playoff slot in the Western Conference.

After three uninspiring losses by a 17-5 margin, the Stars put themselves in a precarious position in the playoff hunt coming out of the Olympic break. But Turco's career-best 49 saves, as well as a pair of man-advantage goals keyed a third-period rally that gave the Stars some extra jump in their step at Tuesday's practice in suburban Buffalo.

"It was a huge final 20 or 25 minutes for us," captain Brenden Morrow said following the team's 60-minute workout. "It gives us something to build on. We're now coming into the Buffalo game with good feelings. If things would have gone the other way in the third period, we would have been hanging our heads a little bit. So we're pretty happy with the way we performed."

In such a long NHL season, games that make a true impact on a team's fortunes are few and far between. But Monday's affair in the nation's capital was one of those make-or-break contests that either could have sent the Stars into a deep hole, or kept postseason thoughts dancing in their collective heads.

With the help of that tremendous win, the Stars find themselves in 10th place in the Western Conference entering Tuesday night's action, three points behind ninth-place Calgary and four behind eighth-place Detroit. All three teams have played 65 games, with the Flames and Red Wings meeting in a critical game on Tuesday night.

"That was our game in hand on everybody, so we got the two points," coach Marc Crawford said. "Coming out of the break and seeing the teams that we were playing, not many people would be surprised if we were 2-2. But 0-4 would have been horrendous. Right now at least we got a win and we're back on our feet again. Much like a marathon, it's not won at the start of the race, it's consistency and that total performance that needs to be strong. This is gut-check time here in the last part of our season."

Dallas came out of the post-Olympic gate surprisingly slow, especially after going into it with three wins in four games, including two shutouts. In a 5-1 loss to Los Angeles last Tuesday, Crawford said his team made three poor mistakes that wound up in the Stars' net. The next game against St. Louis, Crawford thought his team lost some confidence in how it forechecked and defended, leading to a 6-1 blowout loss.

The Stars were able to regroup against Pittsburgh and held a two-goal lead in the second period, but were ultimately undone by one of the world's best players.

"A superstar performance by Crosby beat us," Crawford said. "But that's what happens…you have a poor performance and you lose trust in your play. Now you have to get back at building that trust back into your game. Sometimes that takes an outstanding goaltending performance to help build that trust again."

The shaken confidence was certainly rebuilt in the third period against the Capitals. Instead of wilting away, the Stars fought back to drop the Capitals to 28-0-3 when leading after two periods.

"We realized the situation, and we knew we were scratching and clawing for points," Morrow said about the team's mindset during the second intermission. "All that was really said was that we needed the points more than they did. We battled hard that third period, and got those points."

With the advent of the three-point NHL game, it's difficult to overcome huge point differentials. In order for the Stars to stay in contention for that final playoff seed, they realistically need to win at least 10 of their remaining 17 games. Morrow thinks it's possible, especially if they get another strong effort against the Northeast Division-leading Sabres on Wednesday before a six-game homestand starts Friday against Los Angeles.

"We might be outmatched on paper against some teams we're playing with talent, but we can out-will that skill," he said. "That's the attitude and mindset we have to have for these remaining games."


-- Forwards Mike Modano, Brad Richards, Jere Lehtinen and Mike Ribeiro, as well as defenseman Stephane Robidas and Turco were given the day off on Tuesday. Turco received some IV hydration treatment following the Capitals game. Defenseman Nicklas Grossman also didn't practice after being scratched in Washington because of some back discomfort.

-- The Stars have lost three and tied one in the four games they've played in Buffalo since winning the Stanley Cup there in June 1999. Overall Dallas has won three of the last 10 meetings between the two teams.

-- Dallas' opponents during its key upcoming six-game homestand have a collective record of 227-131-33. All six (Los Angeles, Colorado, San Jose, Philadelphia, Ottawa and Phoenix) currently would qualify for the playoffs. The Stars, meanwhile, are 18-8-5 on home ice.

-- The Stars are 6-7-2 against the Eastern Conference this season compared to 8-7-3 last year.

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