Saturday, May 3
May 3, 1:02 PM ET
Stars: Another summer story for Ducks?
By Mike Heika
Special to ESPN.com
DALLAS -- Anaheim coach Mike Babcock has preached day-to-day focus since Day 1 with his Mighty Ducks, but he has allowed himself a little peek into the future every now and then.
"We don't want to be talking to people this summer about how we beat Detroit," Babcock said early in his team's Western Conference semifinal series with the Dallas Stars. "Our focus is a little more down the road than that."
Well, if he can keep his focus strong and his team on track, then he can be talking this summer about how the Ducks beat both Detroit and Dallas. Since the NHL started expansion in 1968, no team has ever knocked off a No. 1 and No. 2 conference seed in the same postseason. The Ducks are standing on the precipice of just such a feat. Leading the Stars 3-1 in the best-of-seven series, Anaheim can close things out Saturday in Dallas (3 p.m. ET on ABC).
And while Babcock would love to pull off the double play, he understands the challenge.
"We know they're not going away," he said. "We have to put them away."
The Stars are also looking at the big picture and trying to focus on the small details all at the same time. They have asked for the strength to imagine winning three straight games, yet they know that task can only be accomplished one game at a time.
"Of the first four series in the first round, in two of them, the team that was down 3-to-1 came back to win," Stars coach Dave Tippett said referring to the Vancouver Canucks and Minnesota Wild. "We should feel motivated from that. We have to go out and push it to Game 6, and we feel we're very capable of doing that."
But after saying that, Tippett pointed his team in search of a more direct goal -- solving the Ducks. So far, Anaheim has gotten the better of the series because it has forced a defensive style. Both teams were overly cautious in Game 4 and that allowed Anaheim to get the big break at the right time.
But if the Stars think they can just go into Game 5 and dial up their offense, they have another thing coming. Even center Mike Modano said trying to pass the puck through the middle against the Ducks is ill-advised.
"You live and die by the sword, and we did that during the season, but you can't do that now," Modano said. "They're real good at knocking passes down and intercepting and they feed off the extra little play you want to make at the blue line."
Because of that, the Stars have been forced to strip down their high-speed attack and go to a simpler plan of dumps and rims -- and Modano said he doesn't see that changing the rest of the series.
"In the playoffs, defense wins championships and defense wins series," Modano said. "They're not going to play our game, they're going to play the way they are playing, and that's the fact. They're 7-1 in the playoffs, they're not going to change now."
So how do the Stars' attack that for three games, let alone in Game 5?
"One way is to go out and get a lead," Tippett said. "Then you can impose your will early and break that shell they're under. You have to go out and find ways to create chances and find ways to make them make mistakes, and then capitalize on those opportunities."
The Stars won Game 3 because they were able to ride a lead. They almost won Game 2 while protecting a one-goal cushion. That's why the Ducks will be happy to play scoreless hockey for another five overtimes if necessary. The pressure is on the Stars to score.
"We have a lot of players who have given everything they've got. But that being said, we need some more from some players," Tippett said. "Secondary scoring would be huge in our game right now. Part of that is Bill (Guerin) coming along, part of that is Pierre (Turgeon) coming along. Part of that is Jason (Arnott) breaking through. Those are players that have to come through."
Guerin played five minutes in Game 4, Turgeon was a healthy scratch and Arnott had two third-period penalties (one that led to the game-winning goal). With that in mind, the Stars believe they can step up their play in all regards.
"You can say that (we've played well), but you can always do more," Tippett said. "Whether it's burying a chance or not taking a penalty or finding a way to get more traffic in front of their goaltender, you always have to find a way to push the envelope to get better and find a way to win. A couple of games in this series, we've found a way to lose, so we need to get that turned around in our favor."
And they have to do it quickly, or they may be just another great summer story for the Ducks.
Mike Heika of the Dallas Morning News is a regular contributor to ESPN.com.
Stars coach Dave Tippett will have his hands full Saturday morning trying to fill out a lineup card. He's trying to figure out if it pays to keep Bill Guerin (thigh) in the lineup, take Scott Young (unknown affliction) out of the lineup or put Pierre Turgeon (healthy scratch) back in the lineup. He also has to ponder whether to keep veteran Claude Lemieux on board or if he should try to work in the younger legs of Manny Malhotra, Steve Ott or Aaron Downey.
"There's definitely hard decisions, and everyday you come up with a lineup that you feel gives you the best chance to win," Tippett said. "There's a lot of analysis of what people would give you on a certain night. There's not a person we don't talk about, what their influence on the lineup would be."
The key right now is Guerin. He has come back from a thigh injury that kept him out for two months and Tippett hasn't been able to use him for regular shifts. So with the Stars' back to the wall, do you go with an injured Guerin or a healthy youngster? Tippett appeared to be leaning toward an injured Guerin.
"We challenged him to push himself as hard as he could in practice (Friday), to push himself to areas that maybe he hasn't been in yet," Tippett said. "He responded, and we thought he was better in practice today. Mentally, he came out it in a better state of mind today, so hopefully he goes into (Saturday's) game in a better state of mind."
Still, it creates some difficult decisions within the game.
"You just don't miss two months and jump into a heated playoff game," Tippett said of Guerin. "We're going to continue to push him forward. We feel like he can be a strong contributor for us. As his game goes, he'll dictate how much (ice time) he gets."
Young was given the day off to rest Friday. Turgeon said he thinks he's in. That means unless Tippett scratches Ulf Dahlen, Claude Lemieux or Kirk Muller, the youngsters will probably sit out.
But as Tippett has maintained throughout the playoffs, those will be game-time decisions.
-- Mike Heika