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Sturm: Skill Beats Will

by Bob Sturm / Dallas Stars

Skill Beats Will.

18,532 arrived Monday night with great plans and expectations.  18,532 knew that all they needed was one win to turn this series right back around.  And, 18,532 left the American Airlines Center in quiet depression as they had just witnessed a hockey clinic they will not soon forget, that will likely end a spring of hockey they also will not soon forget.

Bob Sturm
The Dallas Stars appear to be a team that is out of answers, energy, and ideas.  They have accomplished far more than most observers thought possible this season, and have much to be excited about moving forward.  But, the present is not so kind.  The Western Conference Finals have required a meeting with a team that has me wondering if we will all look back and marvel at how special this Detroit Red Wings team really is.  I don’t want to admit it anymore than you do, but there are times when you play a team that is just flat-out better. 

Will history show us that the 2008 Red Wings are a star-studded cast that will rival the Penguins of the early 1990’s?  Even Edmonton in the 1980’s?  It seems silly to suggest, but I can’t remember seeing this quality since Mario, Jagr, and the gang rode through the NHL in 1991 and 1992.  Nicklas Lidstrom, Pavel Datsyuk, and Henrik Zetterberg are such high-end talent playing so well, at times while driving you insane by destroying your team, you feel fortunate to be witnessing such greatness with your own eyes.

With far more questions than answers, let’s look back at a Game 3 that was tough to take:

-- Would you like the entire series in a nutshell?  Here it is.  Mike Modano sends a wicked backhand pass to Nik Grossman, which is promptly spanked home to tie the game, 1-1.  While Bill Oellermann attempted to announce the specifics of the goal, the Red Wings had sent their unstoppable gang-of-5 (28, 5, 12, 40, 96) to go re-take the lead.  I hate to say that they were toying with the Stars, but when they can go score seemingly anytime they want, it makes you consider the premise.  The Stars had the game tied for an entire 37 seconds before the energy was sucked out of the building when Datsyuk scored again to make it, 2-1.  At least when Brad Richards scored to tie it at 2-2, the Red Wings had the mercy to wait 8 minutes before taking the lead again.  So very frustrating. 

-- I felt the Stars were bringing all sorts of pressure at Detroit in the first two periods last night.  They had more chances, but just not results.  I think the most under-rated aspect of Detroit is that defensive zone coverage.  When Brenden Morrow and Mike Ribeiro have put the pressure on in past series, they would always end up with golden scoring chances.  But those Wings hardly ever lose their shape.  Once in a while, a chance presents itself, but they are so much more secure in their own end than the Ducks or the Sharks.  I don’t think it is even close.

-- Is there anything that broadcasters say more than: “In the playoffs, it is all about Power Play and Goaltending”.  But, a quick check of the 2008 playoff run will reveal that following:  When the Stars had their Power Play clicking, and Marty bailing them out, they won.  Sadly, right now, the Power Play is not very powerful, and Marty is not bailing them out.  Last night, they needed Marty to foil Hudler’s breakaway, Zetterberg’s short hander, or one of Datsyuk’s sorties.  Easy for me to say, but this time of year, either your goalie saves your bacon, or you lose.

-- I can’t help look back at Game 4 of the San Jose Series.  In the 2nd intermission of that game, it is tied, 1-1.  If the Stars can control the 3rd period, like they had been routinely, the sweep of the Sharks is complete, and the rest and recuperation would have been substantial.  But, while the Red Wings had their feet up, the Stars had to battle the Sharks into overtime in Game 5, and quadruple overtime in Game 6.  I have to wonder if the strength expended to play those 11 extra periods have taken their toll.  Look, I am not saying that this is the difference in this series, but it sure doesn’t help. 

-- My first Chris Chelios memory was when I was 9 years old, and he was playing his first season at Wisconsin in 1981.  5 years later, Matt Niskanen and Mark Fistric would be born.  I will turn 36 years old next month, and Chris played in his 258th playoff game last night.  I am not sure what this has to do with last night’s game but it just amazes me that this guy keeps playing.  And contributing.  At 46.

-- Brenden Morrow looks beat up.  So does Mike Modano.  And Brad Richards.  And Sergei Zubov doesn’t look right.  And Marty Turco looks exhausted.  I wonder how many of these guys are injured and just trying to keep going.  It is a war of attrition.  And it appears that skill beats will.  

-- Have you ever heard of Wallace Hartley?  He was the band leader on a little boat called the Titanic.  According to legend (or at least the movie), the band played until the very end.  The boat was sinking, people were screaming, and death was looming, yet the band played on.  Even though their doom was completely assured, they continued playing.  And according to the script, he turned to his band-mates and with water rolling up the deck toward them, he lowered his violin and said, “Gentlemen, it has been a privilege playing with you tonight”.  Well, it would appear that water is rushing in right now on the good ship, “Believe”.  I would like to echo Mr. Hartley’s words and direct them to our boys.  “Gentlemen, it has been a privilege watching you play this spring.” 

-- Wednesday Night should be a celebration of what you have seen.  Let’s hope they have at least one more courageous win in them.  But, allow me to make a request, 18,532.  Win or Lose, I sure hope you are ready to salute your team at the end of the game.  Nobody thought there would be a Stars game on May 14th, and yet there is.  It has been a wonderful run that is restoring a lot of faith in the organ-i-zation.  It isn’t over yet, but when it is, make sure you remind yourself that 2008 has been very successful, and a major step forward.  Don’t lose sight of that.  Enjoy the journey.
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