The Dallas Stars are headed to the All-Star break after a solid 2 periods against the Florida Panthers. They finished the first half on a rare Florida road trip - Monday in Tampa Bay and tonight in Sunrise. The Stars had been stringing some wins and points together, but they blew a 2-1 lead late in the 3rd to the Bolts, and lost 4-2. Then tonight they skated out to play but clearly their minds were long gone. Thankfully they were only down by a goal after the first. Something happened during the intermission. Maybe Tip threatened them that vacation was cancelled until he was satisfied with their effort ... or maybe they realized this game was not just the game before the break, but a statement game that says "we will make the playoffs." Whatever the case, they came back in the 2nd an entirely different team, and methodically put the Panthers away ... and quite possibly revived the season. Marty didn't face a ton, nor did he face super, high quality shots. But he made 27 saves and had one of his best games of the season. Mike Ribeiro netted his first career hat trick --- a natural hat trick, with the final goal coming on an empty-netter after he won the faceoff and then a puck battle along the boards. Mike Modano got things rolling on the power play from a nice back and forth play with Richards. It was the 14th goal of the season for the likely Captain of the Western All-Star team. All in all, it was a nice way to end the half and a sign that proves this team is far from out of the race.
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Through 45 games, Dallas' record of 20-18-7, for 47 points, is hardly respectable ... especially for a team that finished 3rd overall last year, and 2 wins away from the Stanley Cup Finals. But consider these facts:
(1) the Stars lost Zubov and Morrow for the year
(2) they lost Norstrom and Barnes to retirement
(3) they've played much of the season without the following players (many at the same time) - Zubov, Morrow, Lehtinen, Lundqvist, Ott, Brunnstrom, and Fistric
(4) 2 words - SEAN AVERY
(5) the sophomore slump where it really hurts ... D-men ... Grossman, Niskanen, and Fistric have all faltered this season after really solid rookie campaigns (though they seem to be righting the ship)
(6) Marty Turco has not been Marty Turco - a snowball effect combining a lack of defense, new players, young players, no rest, and his own mistakes have left him tied for dead last in save % and tied for 4th last in GAA
So, clearly the Stars have enough reasons to pack it in and wait for next year. But that is not what this team is all about, or this organization, or this city. Okay, I may have gone overboard with the city thing (see Cowboys, Rangers, and Mavericks!). But it is certainly not what the Dallas Stars are all about, and that includes this team and these players. If they have anything going for them it is the sturdy, veteran leadership of Mike Modano and Stephane Robidas. They are the sole reasons this team is still playoff capable, which is clearly why they are headed to Montreal tomorrow. I could not be more proud of Robi ... a most deserving reward and achievement. As for #9 ... well, I'll simply say that he is, has always been, and will always be the face and heart of the franchise! 543 career goals and 1313 career points, in 1366 games. I guess they should have traded him after all!
Also, it is worth nothing that James Neal is having an impressive and productive rookie season, and will take part in the Young Stars game this weekend. All the hype and expectations were on Brunnstrom (and he has been pretty good himself) but Neal has stolen the show.
Since losing to the Sharks 6-2 on November 28, the Stars have a record of 13-7-3, good for 29 points. Dallas sits 6 points out of 2nd place in the division, with 3 games in hand. With Colorado's loss tonight, and a game in hand, the Stars hold down the 11th seed in the West. But with 3 simple wins they jump all the way to the 5th seed, and that is really the attainable goal. Unless Chicago falls completely off the map, the battle will be for the 5-8 seeds. As of tonight, even St. Louis is alive which means 11 teams are fighting for 4 playoff spots. If for this reason alone, the lockout was a success! With 3-4 games in hand over any one team, the Stars have control over their destination. Considering that every team is basically a playoff team, I'll break down the remaining games by conference and division. Dallas plays 6 more games against the East, 20 non-division games against the West, and 11 games against the Pacific Division. In other words, 31 of 37 games are 4-point games. Considering that every other team is in the same predicament and battle, I think 20 more wins will safely send us to the post-season. That being said, I would love to see this team be the one that is steam-rolling into the playoffs. Something more like 28-6-3, with 8 in a row to finish it off!
However it happens, I still believe this team is playoff bound. They sincerely need Hull and Jackson to come up with a crafty plan to spend some more of Tom Hicks' money. With Zubie and Brendan gone for the year, a bulk of their salaries can be replaced without affecting the salary cap. Assuming the current team stays healthy and the sophomore slump is over, the Stars still need to acquire a top-2 blue-liner, another scoring winger, and a veteran backup for Marty. If they have decided not to use Stephan just yet, they will be forced to bring in someone simply to give him a few breaks before the playoffs. Otherwise, any success leading up to the playoffs will be for naught. Furthermore, I say veteran because it will be absolutely necessary that he be dependable, considering they will be battling for a playoff spot every night.
It is still our turn now ... the path is simply harder! Remember this - we've beaten Detroit twice already this year. Yes, I'm crazy, but I'm still banking on a WCF's rematch!
To the Stars' faithful --- DO NOT WASTE YOUR TICKETS! Its time to buckle down and rock the AAC. Go to the games, yell, cheer, and remember those epic battles with the Ducks and Sharks and Wings last spring! The Stars need you and we all need another run this spring!
Believe! (again, yes, its time to bring that one back out!)
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