DALLAS – Being down 3-0 in the Western Conference final isn’t even the worst part for the Dallas Stars.
This is: Dallas has yet to lead the Detroit Red Wings for a single second in any game this series. How can the Stars fathom winning four straight games under those circumstances?
They can’t. Instead, players came away from practice Tuesday talking about playing for pride in Game 4 on Wednesday night, hoping merely to send the series back to Detroit for Game 5. If they can pull off that one, too, maybe then they can start thinking about pulling off what would be among the greatest comebacks in NHL history.
“We’re all honest,” forward Brad Richards said. “We know it’s a tough hole to climb out of, but we’re doing some good things. A break or two, a little more concentration in a few areas and we have a win. We’ve got to look at it like that. Get a win and you don’t know what kind of roll you can get on.”
Teammate Mike Modano talked about trying “to make this thing interesting … get some confidence going, get a little doubt in their mind, maybe, make it difficult.”
They certainly need something because Detroit has nothing to doubt right now.
The league’s top team in the regular season has been even better in the playoffs. The Red Wings are 11-2 with nine straight wins, a franchise record for a single post-season. Their next victory will send them to the Stanley Cup final and they’re sure to be heavy favourites to win it all for the fourth time in 11 seasons.
But, first, there’s that pesky matter of the close-out game.
It’s supposed to be the toughest in any playoff series, but Detroit has made it look easy. The Red Wings have ended both series thus far on their first try, ending the opening round with their best defensive performance (their lone shutout) then ending the second round with their best offensive performance (eight goals).
So, no, the Stars aren’t likely to catch them looking ahead.
“They’re going to have a huge push, we understand that totally,” Detroit coach Mike Babcock said. “In saying that, we have to push them as hard as we’ve pushed them all series, and harder. And we’re optimistic. We’re capable of doing that.”
The Red Wings are capable of doing anything they want right now, which is why the Eastern Conference finalists should be worried.
See, Dallas hasn’t been that bad. Detroit simply has been that good.
Pick a stat, any stat, and the Red Wings aren’t just winning, they are dominating the fifth-seeded Stars, making it look more and more like they overachieved by getting this far.
-Detroit scored five goals in Game 3. Dallas has four all series. The overall tally is 11-4.
-The Red Wings have taken 86 shots, the Stars 57.
-Both teams have had 15 power-play chances. Detroit has converted four times, Dallas once.
-The Red Wings also have a short-handed goal. Thus, when the Stars have had a man advantage, Detroit has scored as often as Dallas.
-Detroit goaltender Chris Osgood is riding the wave of being 9-0 this post-season. Dallas goalie Marty Turco has seen his overall career record against the Red Wings sink to 2-13-5.
-Detroit has collected 32 penalty minutes to Dallas’ 56. The Stars also have had two players fined for dirty play, the Red Wings one.
-Even good health is on Detroit’s side. Yes, the Red Wings remain without Johan Franzen, the top goal-scorer this post-season with 12, and will be again for Game 4. But the Stars will again be without top-line forward Jere Lehtinen and veteran forward Stu Barnes. They also haven’t gotten back defenceman Philippe Boucher, as hoped, and they saw Modano and captain Brenden Morrow go straight to the dressing room for treatment in Game 3.
Stars coach Dave Tippett welcomed his club to practice Tuesday with the message of “keep your head up.” He said he was encouraged with how they responded.
He insists his group has played well in spurts, they just haven’t made the most of their chances. There was plenty of evidence in Game 3.
It started with Dallas taking five shots before Detroit got any, only to see the Red Wings score first. The Stars scored next, but then gave up another goal 37 seconds later.
The Stars opened the second period on a power play, but hardly challenged Osgood. They got another power play 18 seconds into the third period, but that’s when they gave up a short-handed goal, falling behind 4-2.
“The best part of our game through the playoffs was how well we’ve played together. We’ve been a strong, strong group,” Tippett said. “This series, we’ve ended up chasing games. We’re behind a lot in games. What happens is players get the mind set that they want to do more. They feel like they want to help out so much that they get individual. And when your strength is as a group and your individuals start trying to do more individually, it takes you out of that team concept.”
In other words, things might be different if the Stars can play with the score in their favour.
They might have only one chance left to find out.