Mike Modano is expected to put the puck in the net, and the NHL's all-time U.S.-born goal-scorer finally found the score sheet with his first-period 5-on-3 goal to provide the Stars with early momentum.Checking center Jeff Halpern's third-period goal was just as huge, however, giving Dallas a safer two-goal margin.
Halpern's second goal of the series on a slap shot from the high slot at 7:22 of the third period that beat the nearly unbeatable Roberto Luongo rewarded the Stars for continuing to attack rather than going into a shell to protect their one-goal lead.
"He's a great goalie," Halpern said. "I just shot it as high and as hard as I could and it found a spot. He made some unbelievable stops in the second. There's a reason he gets the credit he gets.
"We weren't able to score on some good chances in the second period. These are the kind of games that get frustrating. But we had to stay in there. We knew we had to sustain some offense."
Sitting back to protect a lead was a strategy that backfired on the Stars in Game 3 when Vancouver rallied from a one-goal deficit to take the game into overtime before winning, 2-1.
"It was very important to keep pushing in the third period," said Halpern's linemate Stu Barnes. "In the past we sat back and we paid for it. There still a very dangerous team over there. To get that second goal was nice."
Halpern's been a hero before in the series. His goal 24 seconds after the opening faceoff in Game 2 -- the fastest to start a playoff game in Stars history -- sent Dallas to a 2-0 victory in Vancouver that evened the series.
The Stars signed Halpern last July to center their checking line, not score big goals. But Halpern, who had only eight goals in the regular season, has been a goal-scoring force against the Canucks in addition to playing a shutdown role against Vancouver's top line. "Our team has won all year relying on a team concept," Halpern said. "There are guys who've carried the load, but we're able to chip in. Mo got us going, and you chip in when you can." Modano and Halpern had plenty of help.
Marty Turco had his third shutout of the series, tying a league playoff record. Turco became the 13th goalie in league history with three shutouts in a series. His defense was stellar, shutting down Vancouver's dangerous forwards like the Sedins and Markus Naslund. Captain Brenden Morrow (eight hits) was a fiesty presence.
Eric Lindros, playing his second game after missing more than a month with a groin injury, also contributed with two hits, a shot, two-for-two on faceoffs and a near-miss on a first-period deflection.
"Eric is a big body who gets to the net, is tough on the forecheck and gets turnovers," Halpern said. "He isn't getting a ton of minutes but he's had an impact and given us something we needed. I wouldn't be surprised if he plays a bigger role in the next game."
There were some nervous moments early for the Stars' sellout crowd of 18,600, the largest ever at the AAC for a hockey game.
Dallas had failed to capitalize on 1:55 of a 5-on-3 in the first period of Game Four, and the Stars went down to a 2-1 defeat.
The Stars had been one of the league's best 5-on-3 teams during the regular season, and this time they cashed in on their two-man advantage in the first period.
Seconds before scoring, Modano's shot got through Luongo, but Bobby Lu was able to get a paw on the puck before the Stars could knock it over the goal line. Modano didn't miss his second chance on the 5-on-3, firing a shot past Luongo from the high slot at 3:05 that dinged in off the right goalpost while Jere Lehtinen screened. Modano had an active first period with three shots on goal and another that missed the net.
Now the Stars will try to make history, attempting to come back to win a series from a three-games-to-one deficit for the first time since they moved to Dallas prior to the 1993-94 season. They've never even been able to force a Game 7.
"Our situation hasn't changed," Stars coach Dave Tippett said. "Our backs are still against the wall. Maybe we're used to the pressure now. We've really been in Game 7 for the last two games. It's been good for us to be in this situation a lot this year. One reason we've won the last two games is the adversity we've faced all year. When it was tough, we knew how to handle it."
"Game 7 will be the biggest challenge," Turco said.