Commentary

Confidence grows for Stars' Turco

Updated: February 7, 2010, 1:41 AM ET
By Richard Durrett | ESPNDallas.com

DALLAS -- Marty Turco is playing like a No. 1 goalie again.

It couldn't come at a more critical time. If the Dallas Stars are to go on a desperate push to get into playoff position, they need to win games now. And they can't do that consistently without Turco playing at a high level.

Turco was on his game in Saturday's 4-0 win over the Phoenix Coyotes, his 39th career shutout. Actually, the entire team was on its game. Steve Ott called it the best 60-minute game the club has played the past two months. Dallas, led by 20-year-old Jamie Benn, was aggressive on offense around the net, took advantage of scoring chances, allowed next to nothing on the penalty kill, won the majority of faceoffs, doubled the Coyotes on hits, stifled a tired Phoenix team with good play in the defensive zone and received confident goaltending.

It's that last part that will be the key for the Stars if they are to earn a playoff invitation. To do that, Turco, who has allowed two or fewer goals in three straight games for the first time this season, knows he has to take this act on the road to help his team skate out with points. The Stars have three games left before the two-week Olympic break. All three are away from the very friendly ice at American Airlines Center. They have won just one game in their past 13 on the road.

But Saturday's game is the perfect blueprint to use when they head to Chicago on Tuesday. And for Turco, he can use his last three games -- and a handful of practices -- to give him a confidence boost that he hasn't had all season. Turco has allowed three goals in 101 shots in his past three games.

"You can see it in his body language, you can see it in the way he moves the puck," Stars coach Marc Crawford said about Turco's confidence. "It couldn't come at a better time for us."

The Stars need the Turco who is a reliable goalie who cleans up most of the defensive mistakes -- and there will be more errors -- and stands on his head every once in a while to steal a game. He didn't have to do anything too fancy Saturday, thanks to his teammates. But he made sure the resilient Coyotes never got any momentum to make things interesting as they pressured the net in the final period.

"It just helps to have good balance and to be able to move well," said Turco, a technician of his craft. "That always aids my patience. That allows me to stand in there and wait to see the puck and react accordingly and not get ahead of myself."

Is Turco capable of playing like this down the stretch this season? He's done it before. It was just two years ago when the veteran led the Stars to the Western Conference finals.

But he had his worst career year last season and watched as a new general manager and new coach arrived. Despite hard work this summer on his game, Turco struggled to start the season. Crawford and the coaching staff stayed as patient as they could, but in mid-January they decided to give Alex Auld a try.

That's when the swapping of goalies began. Saturday was the first time Turco had even played three consecutive games since Jan. 14.

"Probably the biggest thing he needed was a break," Crawford said. "He didn't want it to be as long as he got it, but all you can do in those types of situations is prepare for your next outing."

Goaltending coach Mike Valley said he thought a hot streak for Turco was coming after watching him in practice the last week.

"When he's really moving well, you see that pop in his game and the confidence oozing out of him," Valley said. "That's how Marty plays. It's a very reactionary game where he has that little extra energy in him. That's the thing that will go in waves, like it does for every player. The goal is to keep it as high as you can for as long as you can. But he's been practicing very well, and that's where it all starts."

Turco's resurgence could make things interesting for Stars general manager Joe Nieuwendyk. This three-game road trip -- something Crawford and several players called the most important of the season -- will essentially take the club to the trade deadline. They'll have two weeks off for the Olympics and then one game before March 3.

Turco's value is going up with every solid game he plays. But isn't he just as valuable to the Stars right now as he is to any other team? There's been talk about which teams might have an interest in Turco -- and I would think more teams may be calling the Stars in the next week if he keeps this up -- and if the Stars would be willing to part with him to get something in return.

Turco's contract expires at the end of the season, and it doesn't appear likely he'll be back in Dallas. But the Stars' desire to trade him should be steadily declining now. They need Turco, the one who has played at a high level the past three games, if they want to go on a run and make the playoffs.

So keep him and decide after the season if it makes sense to end the Turco era. If so, the Stars would lose his $5.4 million salary, allowing them a little more wiggle room to maybe add players (or pay existing ones higher salaries they are owed for next season).

Yes, it's only three games. But Turco sure does look more like the goalie who was so reliable for most of his career. The Stars should ride him as long as they can and hope he can drive the team into the playoffs.

Richard Durrett covers the Dallas Stars for ESPN Dallas. You can follow him on Twitter or leave a question for his weekly mailbag.

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