DALLAS – The Detroit Red Wings aren’t really going to blow this – are they?
Just a few days ago, the Red Wings were still in a span of being undefeated for almost a month, owning the NHL’s longest post-season winning streak in 15 years and doing it with flair. Three games into the Western Conference final, they hadn’t even trailed the Dallas Stars for a single second. All they had to do was win once more to seal a spot in the Stanley Cup final.
Then the Stars won Game 4. And Game 5.
Now Game 6 is Monday night and the Stars are feeling good, realizing they are halfway to a historic comeback.
“I think that’s crept into all of us a little bit,” Dallas captain Brenden Morrow said Sunday. “It’s building. We’re getting a little more of that feeling. None of us will be content just to make a series out of it. We want to win this thing.”
As for the Red Wings, they’ve lost four straight games only once all season. It seems hard to imagine this talented, experienced group would pick Games 4-7 of this series to do it again. Still, they’re heading in that direction.
“We still have to stay loose as a group,” Detroit captain Nicklas Lidstrom said. “I think the experience really helps when you’re in a situation like this.”
The Red Wings also lost consecutive games in the opening round. They bounced back by winning their next nine. Along the way, they closed out the first two rounds on the road, something they can do again Monday night.
Plus, Detroit still has a wee bit of wiggle room. Lose another and the Red Wings would still have Game 7 at their place, not that anyone in red would admit thinking like that.
“We’re still up 3-2,” centre Kris Draper said. “That’s something that we’ve got to keep hammering home. We’re in a dogfight with a great hockey club. You don’t expect that to be easy.”
Dallas is the 13th team out of 153 to turn a 3-0 deficit into a 3-2 series. Only five have been able to force a deciding game and only two teams have come all the way back to win the series.
Toronto did it in 1942. The New York Islanders did it 33 years later, in 1975.
Another 33 years later, the Stars are hoping to join the list.
“We’ve felt if we could get Game 6 at home, it would be a whole different animal,” Dallas forward Mike Modano said. “Who knows what can happen Wednesday in Detroit? But we don’t want to get ahead of ourselves. We knew it would be an uphill battle. Nobody picked us to win this thing from the start. Last couple games, we’ve found a way to win. It’s been kind of ugly but it’s been effective.”
Stars goalie Marty Turco has limited the Red Wings to one goal in each game, setting their playoff low and then matching it. Maybe now Detroit is starting to feel the absence of leaguewide post-season scoring leader Johan Franzen, who has been out since Game 1 because of concussion-like symptoms.
Dallas is doing all the things expected from teams playing with desperation: Skating harder to loose pucks, winning battles in the corners and playing with more energy from start to finish. The Stars also have done a better job of keeping bodies from in front of Turco, reducing point-blank chances and helping the goalie see more shots.
“Everybody’s got to pick it up (offensively),” Detroit coach Mike Babcock said. “We’ve got to try and make adjustments to win. Same old same old will likely give you the same result.”
The Stars have a pretty good idea of their foe’s mindset, having been in the same situation last round. They won Games 1-3 against San Jose, dropped Games 4 and 5, then got their act together to close them out in six – although it took four overtimes to get it done.
Now that they’re doing the chasing, Dallas players are taking momentum into this game, but that’s only a good start. Detroit is likely to have some flaws worked out and some new wrinkles worked in. How the Stars handle those will make the biggest difference.
“The odds are against you, to say the least,” Turco said. “We’ve been on both sides. It’s not easy. Things haven’t changed from (Game 5). We can’t lose. We’re playing to win. It’s Game 6, the biggest game of our careers. We want to keep playing. Who cares how it looks?”