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Sturm: This is Going to be Fun

by Bob Sturm / Dallas Stars

If we have learned anything in the last two weeks, it is this:  Long is the road that leads to the Stanley Cup.  Three more rounds?  Are you serious?  As exhausting and exhilarating as that 1st round was, it is over.  Now, with the Ducks working on their tan, it is time to tangle with Northern California. 

Bob Sturm
When asked to write a preview of this 2nd series against the Sharks, I was tempted to kick it old school and point out that Bryan Marchment is now a scout with San Jose, and wonder if the Stars would have won the cup in 1998 if it wasn’t for his legendary cheap shot in one of the two previous meetings between these teams in the post-season.  If only Grant Marshall was a Stars’ Scout we could have some press box pleasantries.  Ah, memories.
I was also reminded that I had also written a preview for the 1st series this year against the Ducks.  You may recall that I offered numerous reasons why the Ducks have the advantage entering the series, and will be an absolute bear to deal with.  They held the goaltending edge, the playoff experience edge, the know-how-to-win-in-the-playoffs edge, and pretty much all the other edges, too.  Well, the Ducks took all those edges, and were behind the 8-ball the entire series.  The teams decided to play the series despite my forecast, and thankfully, the results did not follow the script at all.    With my superstitions as they are, allow me to continue to try to keep my roll going by suggesting the following:
The Stars have no chance.  The Sharks may already have the Stanley Cup in storage given how super awesome they are.  Joe Thornton is one of the top handful of players in the entire NHL, and frankly cannot be stopped.  There.  I did my part.  Let's see if I can go two for two.
Seriously, though, the Sharks were selected by yours truly to win the Stanley Cup back in October when those preseason predictions were made.  I think they are a very solid hockey team, that can kill you slowly if you do not match their full-ice intensity, or kill you quickly if you do not avoid taking penalties.  The lethal power play led by Thornton is tough to slow down once it gets cooking.  They are pretty physical, but they also play with far more discipline than the less-than-savvy Ducks did in the last round.
Obviously, the Sharks season turned around at the trade deadline.  At that point, they were sitting in 3rd place, and with the Brian Campbell trade from Buffalo, combining with Patrick Marleau learning he was not going anywhere, the Sharks shot up the standings as the Ducks pace slowed, and the Stars pace stopped in that month of March.  Since Campbell arrived, the Sharks have lost two regulars season games.  As the Sharks worked their way into spitting distance of Detroit, the Stars dropped all the way to a point where some in the organization were wondering if they were going to make the playoffs when they landed in San Jose on March 27th.  That night, the Stars pulled a point in a very entertaining overtime loss, which was their first loss at HP Pavilion in their last seven visits.  Meanwhile, in Dallas this season, the Sharks have had plenty of their own success, winning every game but the dress-rehearsal brawl on the last day of the season.  Think about it, in eight games this season between these two teams, the home team has won just twice.
I think this series will be a war in many ways.  Once again, I think the real challenge will be the ability for Mike Modano, Steve Ott and Stu Barnes to slow down Jonathan Cheechoo, Milan Michalek and Joe.  This is something that is far easier said then done, but if Modano can play to the level that he generally does against the Sharks, I have no doubt that this can be a decent match-up for the Stars.
But, do not sleep on Joe Pavelski’s line. Joined by Ryane Clowe and Marleau, they continuously made big plays against Calgary.  Ron Wilson has plenty of scoring depth, and also grinding forwards that will wage battle in every corner.
I think the Stars now are a completely different animal than they were a few weeks back when we pondered the 2008 playoffs.  The team that did not know how to win in the spring demonstrated that they have figured it out in a big fashion.  Marty Turco looks like he wants the puck in a big moment.  The Stars scored an absurd 3.33 goals per game in the 1st round.  And that young blueline?  I think they did ok for themselves.  With Sergei Zubov skating in practice, that group is about to add their answer to Brian Campbell on the back line.  Suddenly, the power play will look a little more powerful.
Once again, the Stars will enter the series as the underdog.  But, you know, that is fine with them, I bet.  Keep picking against them, they say.  Keep doubting them.  Keep telling Marty Turco that he isn’t clutch.  Keep telling Mike Ribeiro that he isn’t this good (I’m talking to you, Canadian Press).  Keep telling Mike Modano that he doesn’t like being a checking line center.  Keep telling the 3 rookies that they are freaking out in the playoffs.
In short, let’s not change anything.  Something tells me that this team has finally figured out the right combination.  So, prepare for some great nights and some tough nights.  Another 7-game bruiser starts Friday Night.  Round Two hockey for the first time since 2003. 
This is going to be fun.


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