Fair or not, Stars' fate rests in Turco's performance

DALLAS -- Marty Turco was somber, but insistent.

"We don't prefer to be in this predicament, but we are," the veteran goalie said in the Dallas dressing room after Game 3 of the Western Conference finals. "It's going to be the biggest test of character we had all year. We've passed them all so far. There's no reason why we can't now. It's just come down to each guy doing their part.

"For me, it's making whatever saves necessary, the easy ones, hard ones, or ones I'm not supposed to."


Without consulting the Audubon Society or experts on seabirds, I'm assuming albatrosses are among the peskier members of the animal world.

It seemed Turco had gotten rid of his -- that albatross-like image as an NHL playoff, um, underachiever -- last season in that stirring seven-game series against Vancouver and Roberto Luongo. Although that was the Stars' third consecutive first-round exit, Turco deserved -- and received-- rave reviews. And even in this postseason, in such games as his 61-save performance in the four-overtime Game 6 against San Jose that helped get Sharks coach Ron Wilson fired, he was more than up to the challenge.

Granted, Detroit has a way of befuddling teams and the men charged to face the head-spinning maneuvering and uncanny passing and virtual tap-ins from Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg and the others.

"They feed off turnovers and transition," Turco said. "They're well-synced and, for us, we need to curb that and get back to playing a game we're a lot more used to playing. We don't have much choice right now."

But for the Stars to have had any chance in the Western Conference finals would have required a larcenous performance by the goalie who was part of two NCAA championship teams at the University of Michigan. They haven't gotten anything close so far in the series, which helps explain why they're down 3-0 heading into Wednesday night's Game 4 at the American Airlines Center and hoping the post-series headline can be: "It Happens Every 33 Years!"

Poll takers, of course, might argue that three games is not a fair sample, or is akin to tackling the first 26 voters leaving one grade-school gymnasium, asking them their choices and calling the election.

But who said this was supposed to be "fair"?

Turco came into the series with a 2-10-5 career record against the Red Wings, and in the three games so far, he has a 3.75 goals-against average and an .872 save percentage.

One of Dallas coach Dave Tippett's pre-series assessments was this: "Maybe it's a great time for a Marty coming-out party."

It hasn't happened.

"I'm not sure what's going wrong other than the obvious, of just getting outshot and not doing enough," Turco said of the Stars' plight. "My perspective's pretty simple. I'm out there just worrying about what I need to do and it hasn't been good enough I have to keep battling and just go out there and do my thing. I haven't been giving our team the best chance of winning."

So there's no denial there. When the series is over, the consensus inevitably will be that goaltending was only part of the big-picture issues that lead to one very basic conclusion: The Stars, as Colorado especially was in the previous series, are overmatched against a team on both a roll and a mission.

But it certainly would have helped if Turco delivered a breathtaking performance or two in the series.

It's not too late for that as Dallas shoots to at least save face and avoid the sweep. That would be one more step as the Stars arrest the slight slippage in post-lockout hockey momentum and buzz in the Metroplex and take further advantage of the Mavericks' absence from the NBA postseason.

All the predictable quotes came out of the Stars' Tuesday practice in suburban Frisco, and they know the magnitude of the challenge and the historical precedents that add up to virtual hopelessness. But even as their offseason approaches, there's also something to be said for being given credit for summoning the will to give it a shot.

Or stop a bunch of them.

"We have just one left here at home and just have to get the win," Mike Modano said. "That's what we discussed. That's what we're gearing ourselves for [Wednesday], just to try to make this thing interesting. We [can] get on a roll and get some confidence going, get a little doubt in their mind, maybe, make it difficult. But we all know winning four is tough, but the fourth game is always the hardest to win."

"This series, we ended up chasing games," Tippett said Tuesday. "We're behind a lot in games. What happens is, players get the mind-set that they want to do more. They feel like they want to help out so much that they get individual. And when your strength is as a group and your individuals start trying to do more individually, it takes you out of that team concept."

Before the series began, as Turco was facing questions about his track record against the Red Wings, he told reporters of his first playoff series against them: "To say I am looking forward to this is an understatement."

So far, he hasn't been the problem. He hasn't done enough, either.

Terry Frei is a regular contributor to ESPN.com. He is the author of the just-released "'77" and "Third Down and a War to Go."