- Mike Heika
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ANAHEIM, Calif. -- Dallas general manager Doug Armstrong is lobbying officials to protect Mike Modano.
Anaheim GM Bryan Murray is yelling that he wants protection, all right, for his goalie, who he said was getting mugged in Game 5.
Stars coach Dave Tippett vowed his team would continue to play physical.
Mighty Ducks coach Mike Babcock said his team has to rise to the greatest challenge of the season.
Got a feel for the pressure yet? It's starting to build here as the Stars and Mighty Ducks get ready for Game 6 of their best-of-seven Western Conference semifinals series Monday night.
If the Ducks, who hold a 3-2 series edge, can win, they move on to the Western Conference final for the first time in their 10-year franchise history. If the Stars win, they force Game 7 on Wednesday night back in Dallas, the site of their best game in the playoffs Saturday afternoon.
While it's not quite Game 7 yet, there is a feeling that the winner of Game 6 is going on in the playoffs. At the very least, the Stars would wrest full momentum in the series with a victory.
"There are defining moments for players and organizations where you are measured. And it's not in the regular season, but right now," Babcock said. "This is where you're measured. This is where you want to be."
Still, those outside the organization are curious how the Ducks will respond to that challenge. They had gone 7-1 in their first eight playoff games and their one loss was 2-1 to the Stars in Game 3. Bottom line, they had not faced much adversity. However, they were ridden out of Dallas on Saturday in a 4-1 blowout in which every player admitted it was their worst performance of the season.
So how do they respond?
"We didn't expect that (in Game 5), but it's over," said center Adam Oates. "We have to be ready for their challenge (Monday), and I think we will be."
Babcock was calm and confident Sunday, and his players relaxingly participated in an optional skate or kicked a soccer ball around the hallways of the Arrowhead Pond. If the Stars were looking for "cracks in the foundation" or a "bursting of the bubble," the pressure didn't seem to be getting to the Ducks. Goalie Jean-Sebastien Giguere looked more bemused than anything by a line of questioning that had him the target of the Stars' physical attack.
Giguere was given the bum's rush in Game 5 and Babcock even pulled Giguere because he said the Ducks' power play was doing nothing to prevent the Stars from taking assorted penalties.
Then, Murray held an impromptu press conference and lobbied the officials to stop the abuse of his goalie. Peeved by comments made by Armstrong after Game 5 that Modano was being dragged down and not getting calls that he had earned, Murray rallied to the defense of his goalie.
"Jiggy was hit six times, a couple by Mike Modano," Murray said. "So let's be fair. We're being told they are going to protect the goalies. Let's do it."
In fact, Murray said he wants every penalty called. He said that would favor the law-abiding Ducks.
"I don't care what the power-play advantage is, call the penalty," he said. "It could be 20-1 and (in Game 5) it probably could have been 15-1 (Anaheim favor). So just call it."
Giguere said he doesn't think about the officiating and he's certainly not going to start swinging his stick to protect the crease. In fact, when asked about the annoying presence of veteran pest Claude Lemieux, Giguere just shrugged.
"He's giving me respect," Giguere said of Lemieux's attempts to get the goalie off of his game. "That's fine by me. I must be doing something good."
But for all of the antics off the ice, there are still questions on the ice. The Stars benefited from their physical edge in Game 5 (the first physical edge they have brought to the series) and Tippett said the team needed just as much in Game 6. The Ducks, meanwhile, said they have to match the Stars' intensity but not their hitting total.
The intensity has to be in defending against the Stars' move to more skating and short passes through the neutral zone, and it has to be in bearing down on scoring chances. If the Ducks can force turnovers and score off the transition game, they could put this series away at home.
If not, Game 7 awaits.
"Obviously, we have to win two more games, but I think it was big to push it to Game 6," Lemieux said. "They now have the pressure of winning it there or having to come back here. I think they have the pressure."
Mike Heika of the Dallas Morning News is a regular contributor to ESPN.com.
No matter the winner, Game 6 will be the defining moment of the Stars-Ducks series.