But on Monday night, the Red Wings squeezed the life out of the Stars, re-establishing the dominance Detroit showed in the first three games of these Western Conference finals.
The Stars were chasing the game almost from the opening faceoff, and the Red Wings went on to a 4-1 victory to capture the series in six games.
Now Detroit moves on to face the Pittsburgh Penguins in the Stanley Cup finals while the Stars reflect on a season that went far better and far longer than anyone imagined.
“We're all pretty disappointed,’’ Stars captain Brenden Morrow
said. “We came a long way this year, but this wasn't our ultimate goal. We did make some progress. We put a lot of work into this and want to do it again. This will make us hungrier.''
In Games 4 and 5, the Stars were able to relatively neutralize the Red Wings’ net presence.
But on Monday night, the Wings crashed the cage early, and the Stars couldn’t keep them away as Detroit buzzed Marty Turco for three close-range goals in the opening period.
“It's the ultimate disappointment of letting the guys down,’’ said Turco, who finished with 25 saves. “It comes with the territory. You handle it and deal with it. It really hurts to think of what we could have done. This is hard to swallow, really disappointing when you come up short.’’
Detroit got first-period goals from checking line members Kris Draper and Dallas Drake. Pavel Datsyuk also struck on the power play in the opening 20 minutes and the Wings carried a 3-0 advantage into the second period.
The Wings, who had managed only two goals in the previous two games, then made it 4-0 at 3:11 of the second period when Morrow’s cross-ice pass on a power play was intercepted by Henrik Zetterberg, who skated the length of the ice and beat Turco for his second shorthanded goal of the series.
The team scoring first won all six games in the series, and Detroit made sure the trend would continue with an overwhelming start that included a 13-5 edge in first-period shots.
“I thought it was a combination of us hoping to win and Detroit pushing the issue,’’ Stars coach Dave Tippett said. “Once you're trailing, you're chasing the game.’’
The Stars never got rolling. Detroit had the game’s first five shots, got a crash-the-net goal from Draper at 3:46 of the opening period and a power-play rebound from Datsyuk at 11:41. At that point, the crowd was silenced and the game was all but over.
Turco was under siege, but afterward he refused to point fingers.
“To start nitpicking now takes away from this group,’’ Turco said. “Those were playoff goals. I went down on one, it goes over me, on another one I stayed up and tried to scoop it and it went under me. Every goal is a big goal in the playoffs.’’
The only teams to pull themselves out of 3-0 holes to win best-of-7 series were the 1942
Toronto Maple Leafs and the 1975 New York Islanders. The other 151 teams to win the first three games of a series emerged as winners.
Dallas was only the 13th team to force a Game 6 after trailing three games to none.
“There wasn’t a lot of quit in us,’’ Morrow said.
In Games 4 and 5, the Stars were able to relatively neutralize the Red Wings’ world-class skill symbolized by Zetterberg and Datsyuk with the checking line of Toby Petersen
, Loui Eriksson
and Joel Lundqvist.
Not so in Game 6.
The Stars were able to do little on their first six power plays before Stephane Robidas
found the back of the net with a one-timer at 2:27 of the third period.
That raised the Stars’ energy level, but the Wings withstood the surge.
“We didn’t want to have any regrets when the game was over,’’ Morrow said. “We wanted to finish strong. We got one early, got the fans into it, created some momentum for ourselves, but couldn't find a few more.''
Once again, the Red Wings clinched a series with a flourish. They closed out the first round with a 3-0 win over the Nashville Predators, and then Detroit completed a sweep of the Colorado Avalanche with an 8-2 rout in the conference semis.
While the Red Wings celebrated on the ice, Stars fans stayed to the end, waiving their towels and chanting “Marty, Marty, Marty.’’
In the final analysis, the Stars were beaten by a more talented team, but that takes nothing away from Dallas’ season.
“You have to give that team credit, it’s a great team with great players that won the Cup before,’’ Robidas said. “On the other hand, we could have played a lot better in the first two periods and that would have made a difference. But you can’t live in the past. You’ve got to learn from your mistakes and take positives out of it. We were that close to playing for the big trophy. That’s why I play hockey and I came up short again this year.’’