As the euphoria of the Dallas Stars' thrilling 1-0 overtime victory in Game 5 of their Western Conference Quarterfinals series Thursday night slowly fades away, reality reminds us that the Stars still trail the Canucks 3 games to 2 and are still facing elimination.
The Stars spent the night in Vancouver and returned home Friday afternoon, maintaining their focus on dealing with their predicament one game at a time. The puck drops for Game 6 Saturday night at the American Airlines Center at 7pm (FSN). "Our situation hasn't changed," coach Dave Tippett said. "Our backs are still against the wall. We're coming home with hopefully some momentum from a real strong effort and getting rewarded for that effort in overtime, so we've got to carry that momentum into tomorrow night."
Captain Brenden Morrow, who scored the game-winning goal at 6:22 of OT to extend the Stars season and extinguish their six-game post-season overtime losing streak, was already moving on to preparing for the next installment of the series.
"I don't think we want to get too high," said Morrow, who is the only Star with more than one goal in the series. "Last night was in the past, we're moving on. We didn't get too low after being down three games to one. We need to play with a lot of emotion, but what's done is done, and we still got a long road, a long fight, and we have to take it one game at a time. That starts tomorrow night."
With his inspiring play in this series, Morrow has been displaying the leadership that prompted management to appoint him captain before the season began, and after he challenged his teammates to step up their play and attack the 'hard areas' of the ice after Game 4, he delivered. His goal was a direct by-product of that, as he crashed the net and deflected Sergei Zubov's wrist shot over Canucks' goaltender Roberto Luongo.
"It's big, when your leader, your captain gets the big goal for you," said defenseman Darryl Sydor, who has also impressed with his gritty play in this series. "He wears his heart on his sleeve, it's just fitting that he got the goal last night."
"Brenden obviously is a very fiery competitor," added center Jeff Halpern, who has been instrumental in helping holding the Canucks' Sedin twins scoreless since Game 1. "He's not someone who's talking all the time, and when he does speak, it does hold a lot of weight and a lot of merit and guys respect him a lot. When your captain scores an overtime goal to keep your season going, to be able to back that up with his play as well as his words is more of a credit to him. For him to step up like that is the marking of a very good leader."
Two keys to the Stars' success in Game 5 was the outstanding play of Marty Turco in goal, as he stopped 21 shots for his league-leading second shutout of the series, and the fact that Dallas finally got a fortunate break to go their way. "The problem when you're facing elimination is how small the margin for error is," Halpern noted. "That's our goalie being the best player on our team right now. Marty made save after save throughout the game, and he did have breaks along the way, but I think guys like Marty, they make their own breaks."
Of course, the biggest break to go Dallas's way in Game 5 was the play early in the third period, with Turco on the bench during a delayed penalty. Rookie winger Loui Eriksson's errant pass in the offensive zone eluded Mike Modano at the Canucks' blue line and skittered all the way down the ice towards the empty Stars net, but ended up kissing just off the post and sliding wide. That's the kind of play that would have gone in earlier in the series.
"Time stood still there for awhile," Tippett said with a sigh of relief. "I know a lot of people down here don't know curling, but there was a lot of calling off the sweepers on that one. Right after it went by the net, someone called out on the bench, 'That's the break we're looking for,' and it seemed to give us a lift after that. That was good momentum for us right there."
"I think that puck on the delayed penalty that Loui banked off the boards and went down the ice, I think that was a sign," added Morrow. "Everyone kind of gasped there and said, 'Let's grab this thing and go forward.' We just collectively bought in, did all the right things, and finally had one go our way."
After finally breaking through their overtime drought, in which the Stars had gone 137:13 of extra time and taken 70 shots on goal without scoring in OT (dating back to 2004) until Morrow's goal, now the Stars need to end their troubles on home ice.
With Game 6 at the American Airlines Center, what better time to end their six-game playoff losing streak at home (just one short of the NHL record) than Saturday night with the club needing a victory to keep playing?
"We had a long streak of not scoring in the overtime and we got that monkey off our back," Morrow said. "Now we've got to take advantage of playing well at home and doing the little things it takes to win games, blocking the shots, getting traffic, just playing really simple and not trying to do anything fancy at home."
The club arrived back in Dallas for Games 3 and 4 after an impressive victory in Game 2 with the series tied, but then lost back-to-back 2-1 games, one in overtime, to get pushed to the brink. Now, they feel more confident that won't happen again. "To come home for Game 6, to have that momentum in front of your home crowd, we're excited about that," Halpern said. "We've had a very good home team all year. I don't think we've come out at home the way that we should have or could have (in Games 3 and 4) and with the passion through a whole playoff game that you really need to see. To be able to try to feed off of the last game, and knowing that we still have a huge hole to dig out of, it is nice to be home."
With the two teams so evenly matched, and offense all but extinguished by the incredible goaltending of Turco and Luongo (both teams have scored just nine goals COMBINED in the last four games!), the Stars know they have to keep working hard and doing the little things to be able to force a Game 7 in Vancouver on Monday.
"I think we're playing desperate hockey right now and that's always seemed to bring the best out of us," Morrow said. "(Luongo)'s stopping everything he's seeing, just like Marty is for us, and we've got to just keep doing the same things, just get traffic, get people in front of the net and work to get those rebounds."
"When your backs are against the wall, it doesn't matter where you play, you've got to find a way to win, and that's the situation we're in," Tippett said. "We just have to continue to pound away. Every player - it's going to take everyone to max out. The difference in this series is so slim that it's one play here or there - it could be a great play or a bad play that makes a difference in the series, and we want to be the team that makes a good play. We'll come home with hopefully a lot of momentum and take it into that game tomorrow night and do whatever it takes to win."