Colorado not taking 3-1 lead for granted

Updated: April 21, 2004, 2:37 PM ET
Associated Press

DENVER -- Three chances to close out a playoff series should make any team feel comfortable.

Not the Colorado Avalanche.

The way things have gone the past few years, the Avalanche have to avoid viewing their 3-1 lead over Dallas as three chances to lose the series.

"Three to one doesn't mean anything until you win four," Avalanche forward Steve Konowalchuk said. "It's always the toughest game, the one to put them away."

The Avalanche have certainly learned that.

Four times in six years, Colorado has lost a seven-game series with at least two chances to close it out. Twice the Avalanche have blown 3-1 leads with two of the final three games at home, including last year in the first round against Minnesota.

The Avalanche are just 10-16 since 1998 in games that could clinch a series, including five straight losses. That includes the 2002 Western Conference finals, when Colorado led Detroit 3-2 only to lose Games 6 and 7 by a combined score of 9-0.

Game 5 against the Stars is Saturday in Denver, and the Avalanche want the series to end then.

"We have to approach it with a sense of desperation," Colorado forward Dan Hinote said.

The Stars know all about that.

Despite rallying from two-goal deficits in Games 3 and 4, Dallas only managed a split at home. That leaves the Stars with having to win two games in Denver, where they lost the first two games by a combined score of 8-3

Dallas does have some history to fall back on.

The Stars trailed Colorado 3-2 in the 1999 Western Conference finals, but won Game 6 on the road and closed out the series at home before going on to win the Stanley Cup.

It's still a long shot considering Dallas won just 15 road games all season.

"We realize we haven't been great on the road, but it doesn't matter what we've done in the past right now," Stars forward Scott Young said. "We have to keep pushing. Mistakes have to be kept to a minimum. There really isn't much to be said."

A good start might help.

The Stars haven't been able to match Colorado's early flurries throughout the series, allowing two goals in the first period of each game. Dallas has finished strong each time, but that hasn't exactly worked, either.

The Stars have outshot the Avalanche 67-23 after the second period in the four games, including 28-9 in Colorado's 3-2 double-overtime victory in Game 4 on Wednesday.

Problem is, most of the shots haven't had much of a chance to go in.

Colorado's defensemen have done a good job throughout the series of standing up the Stars in the neutral zone and preventing them from getting a head of steam toward the middle of the ice.

Forced to shoot from tough angles and near the blue line, the Stars have made it hard on themselves and easy on Avalanche goalie David Aebischer.

"There are shots and there are good shots and quality shots," Stars center Mike Modano said. "The shots we've gotten have been decent, but nothing that is in close. They've done a good job of keeping us out of the middle."

Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press