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Friday, April 11

Updated: April 11, 2:54 PM ET

Zubov on Game 2: 'We better win'

By Mike Heika
Special to ESPN.com

The Dallas Stars might have let the events of Thursday night salve their bruised egos for a moment or two.

After all, the West's No. 1 seed is in no worse shape than any of the other home teams in the conference who lost their first game of the playoffs.

However, that feeling of relief can last for only a few seconds before the feeling of real panic jumps up to replace it. The truth is, it doesn't matter what upsets happen in other series if you're not there to take advantage of them in the next round.

"You want to be 1-1 going to Edmonton," center Mike Modano said after his top-seeded team set the pace Wednesday with a 2-1 loss to the Oilers in Game 1 of their Western Conference quarterfinal series. "If you go down 2-0 going up there, it's going to be chaos."

Bottom line: It may be early, but it's gut-check time for the Stars. While Detroit, Colorado and Vancouver will have to wait for Saturday to avoid losing two home games, the Stars must be ready for their closeup Friday night. In Game 2 at an American Airlines Center that was dreadfully quiet the other night, the Stars have as close to a must-win as possible.

While coach Dave Tippett stressed a game-by-game philosophy and many players echoed that pledge for tunnel vision, defenseman Sergei Zubov knew better. The soft-spoken alternate captain was somewhat puzzled that reporters would even ask how big Game 2 will be.

"It is important,'' Zubov stated. "We better win."

The Stars are 9-3 in their last 12 trips to Edmonton for playoff games, so a two-game deficit can be overcome. What's more, Detroit showed last season that a team can lose its first two playoff games at home and go on to win the Stanley Cup. However, the Stars know that if they want to make things a whole lot easier on themselves, then winning Game 2 is imperative.

Why? Well, the difference between Detroit last season and Dallas this year is that the Red Wings had the greatest coach in the world standing behind a bench full of players who pretty much grew up together. And if there was any panic in that group, they could always look to a goaltender with six Vezina Trophies.

This season's Stars are led by a man who is running a bench for the first time in the NHL playoffs and is backstopped by a player with a career postseason record of 0-1. The Stars, who have publicly stated they're trying to win the Stanley Cup in the next two years before the end of the current collective bargaining agreement, believe in Dave Tippett and Marty Turco. But if the team goes down 2-0, the pressure will be turned up greatly on both men.

For his part, Turco was unfazed after the Game 1 loss. He gave up one bad goal and saw his offense give him little to work with, so he can grade himself as well as anyone. It'll take more than that to ruffle the 27-year-old, who said he's looking forward to Game 2 because it will double his playoff experience.

"What are you going to do?" he said, using his best Rodney Daingerfield shrug. "We certainly learned a lesson.''

But will they have time to correct their homework before Game 2? The Stars believe they will. They have lost at home before in the playoffs, going into Edmonton for Game 3 tied in two out of the last four series. They won Game 3 in both of those situations.

So this is definitely a series that can be grabbed, but the Stars have to do a better job of grabbing it. They were stale in Game 1. They couldn't fight through the Oilers' towering defense, they couldn't get to lose pucks, and they couldn't create speed out of their own back end. In short, they were nothing like the team that tallied 111 points this season.

"We can be better,'' said center Jason Arnott. "I think everybody knows that.''

The problem is, the Oilers can be better, too. Tommy Salo wasn't really even challenged in goal in Game 1. The Oilers relied on the line of Brad Isbister, Shawn Horcoff and Georges Laraque to produce most of their scoring opportunities.

What if Todd Marchant or Ryan Smyth or Mike Comrie finally breaks loose? What if Salo stands on his head?

The Stars have reduced their margin for error and put the pressure squarely on themselves. Win Game 2 and you're perceived to be back in control. Lose Game 2 and you're perceived to be on your way out.

"We've been in this situation and bounced back well before,'' said captain Derian Hatcher. "I guess we'll see what we're made of.''

That seems to be the way of the top seeds in this year's playoffs

Mike Heika of the Dallas Morning News is a regular contributor to ESPN.com.





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