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Sturm: Game Three is Large

by Bob Sturm / Dallas Stars

Game 2 can be titled, “Better, but not enough”.  The Dallas Stars brought more effort, energy, and executed about as well as they could, but in the end, they now fully realize what they are up against.  A Detroit team that is awesome is playing at a very high level.  And while we all know the suggestion that a “Best of 7 series doesn’t begin until the road team wins a game”, the fact is simply this:  If the Stars don’t win Game 3 back in Dallas, not only will this series begin, but it will also end in the blink of an eye.

Bob Sturm
The thin line of win or lose in the playoffs often depends on a bounce here, or a turnover there.  But, the Stars momentum, which was clearly helping them roll down the hill, is now in hiding.  They have lost 4 of their last 5 playoff games, and have scored 2 goals in regulation only ONCE in the last 6 games.   

They have reached a crisis point, where valuable soldiers are getting hurt, and those who are able are trying to march on. 

Game 2 was very close, but I also had a distinct feeling that Detroit was never made uncomfortable.  That isn’t to say that the Stars cannot compete with them, but in their business trip to Detroit, they returned empty-handed, and at no point did the Red Wings feel fear.  The Wings held control for nearly all 120 minutes of hockey in this series so far, and while some would suggest they merely “held serve”, most neutral observers would likely say they have grabbed the series by the throat.

Do our boys have another gear?  Many are suggesting that the first two rounds took too much of a toll, and that the opponent in the Conference Finals has too much.

I am not so sure.  I want to allow the Stars every opportunity to measure up.  I want to hang in there long enough to see the 20 in Black figure out a way out of this mess.  But, make no mistake, time is running out.   The math is starting to build up, and now, having lost the first two games, the Stars face the most daunting task of trying to beat Detroit in 4 of the next 5 games, or summer is here.

They can only win one game on Monday night, but the desperation and urgency on display in Game 3 will tell us if they have another heroic stand left in the tank, or if we have already seen the best they have to offer in the 2008 playoffs.  And while it is better, it may not be nearly enough to derail Detroit.

Notes from game 2:

-- When you get chances, boys, you must take better advantage.  The final shot totals are slanted heavily in the Detroit favor, and they earn it.  But, when you get golden chances in the first 5 minutes:  Loui Eriksson in the slot with a chance that he shoots wide by two feet from two feet away, Toby Peterson with a gorgeous pass right in front that he whiffs, and a 4-1 that Steve Ott shoots 2 feet wide from 2 feet away, you must at least make the goaltender move.  I know Detroit is great, but the only explanation for all these 3 squandered chances must be players squeezing their sticks too tight.  The Detroit mystique was something Brett Hull admitted was a key as the series began.  The Stars had to treat them as an opponent, not as the greatest team ever assembled.  There is no doubt Detroit is off the highest quality, but don’t lose to them because you freaked yourself out.  Those 3 gorgeous scoring chances have to at least require saves from Chris Osgood.  Add in Sergei Zubov’s  wonderful chance that went wide later in that 1st period, and Hagman’s semi-breakaway in the final minute that also missed the net,  the Stars had as many or more chances as Detroit, and went to the room behind and frustrated.

-- The Stars power play looks better, and the conversion by Stephane Robidas is a nice start.  But, for this series to turn, the Stars are going to need to convert with regularity.  But the chances are there, and the set-up is happening.  This is the fine line that the coaches consider every day.  Is the only basis for power play execution scoring?  Or can you draw positives from steady improvement that may help you later in the series?

-- Zetterberg or Datsyuk?  I prefer the Swede, but to have them on the same line has to be against some league rule.   Or maybe it just should be.

-- Mike Ribeiro could have had a hat trick yesterday.  Lots of good chances.  Of course, that and $4.35 will get you a Venti White Chocolate Mocha.  Chances must be converted or seasons end. 

-- I was happy to see Matt Niskanen account of himself well when he was put back into the lineup.  The Stars are going to be forever pleased with the experience the young defensemen have gained.

-- How tough is it to play in the NHL?  Let’s count the concussions.  Johan Franzen.  Stu Barnes.  Now, Jere Lehtinen, it would appear (I realize that the injury has been suggested to be a leg injury, and it could be, but playing doctor on my couch, I detected the strong possibility of a concussion after that collision with Brenden).  And who knows how many other concussions we haven’t heard about.  If you think the Stars need to dig deeper and fight a bit harder, then you are going to need Barnes and Lehtinen, two of the most likely to dig deeper and fight harder for every inch.  Speedy recoveries are needed badly.   Trouble is, nothing lingers like a concussion.

-- Darren Helm’s goal after the 4-1 chance for the Stars was particularly deflating.  I believe Turco would have liked to have taken a better angle.  There haven’t been many errors in Turco’s postseason, but I have to think he didn’t mean to give up that much daylight on the post.

-- Faceoffs in Game 2 were 39-16, and 35-21 in Game 1 in favor of the Wings.  Fillpula, Draper, and Zetterberg are destroying Modano, Ribeiro, and Richards to the tune of 74-37.  When I was just a lad, I was told that the faceoff turns into possession.  Possession turns into chances.  Chances turn into goals.  And goals turn into wins.   So, it may just be a faceoff, but to those that play the game, it is obvious that dominating in the circle leads to dominating in the game.  I heard proud grandfather Guy Charbonneau is in town to witness the birth of the Morrow twins.  Any chance he can take some face-offs while he is here?

-- Well, let’s get to Ribeiro v Osgood.  Honestly, this is the type of thing we all remember years later.  Who will forget Belfour v. LaPointe?   In this case, as so many before it, both acted at a level below choir-boy, and at first blush it sure looked like Ribeiro acted as a maniac and should have been locked up.  After further review, you see that St Osgood not only slid a butt-end into Ribeiro’s chin with the game over, but then the finest impression of Greg Louganis I had seen in some time.   Honestly, the fault depends on whose ox is being gored, and I suspect those in Detroit think Ribeiro should have a life-time ban, and those in Dallas think it was boys being boys and let’s play on Monday.  In an unrelated note, I am writing this column today from Dallas, Texas.  I expect to see #63 in Black on Monday.

-- Mike Tyson once said that everyone has a plan until you hit them in the face.  Detroit is really good, but, let’s not forget that they have had many issues of their own in the playoffs over the recent years.  See, in my estimation, they are so good, that they rarely find themselves in tough spots.  Often, they win by merely being themselves and overwhelming the opponent.  But, if you can put them in jams, they sometimes are not quite sure how to get out, and that is how they have been bounced in several playoffs in a row.  It is easier said than done, but the Stars need to execute the “punch in the face” technique, and in these two home games, figure out how to place some adversity in Detroit’s dressing room.  If you can, the series turns.  If you don’t, the series is over in a few days. 
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