The Red Wing measuring stick
Turco must step up, DiPietro's costly pads, and more
Posted: Friday January 4, 2008 12:53PM; Updated: Friday January 4, 2008 4:59PM
In the grand scheme of the NHL schedule, there aren't many must-win games in January. But for Marty Turco and the Dallas Stars, Saturday's rematch against the Detroit Red Wings comes pretty close.
It's not that the result is likely to impact the playoff hopes of either squad when the top two teams in the Western Conference get together for the second time in four days, this time at the American Airlines Center in Dallas. That's especially true for the Wings, a Fritz Lang-worthy machine that has won 30 of its first 41 games, including a convincing 4-1 thrashing of the Stars on Wednesday.
That setback aside, the Stars have enjoyed a quietly impressive run themselves, so it might seem unnecessary to place so much weight on the outcome of this particular contest. But the truth is that they need this one badly. And for it to really count, it has to happen with Turco in net.
A little dramatic? Not at all.
The Stars are a team that has pretty much had its way with the league since the dramatic decision to kick general manager Doug Armstrong to the curb after a 7-7-2 start that was actually flattering to their tepid performance. But powered by the change in atmosphere, the end of Mike Modano's lengthy American-born scoring record quest, and the return to form of Turco, Dallas has surprised critics (including this one) with its climb to the top of the Pacific Division at 23-15-4, where it is now locked in battle with San Jose.
Just as important, the successes of the past two months have allowed the Stars to begin to rebuild the bridges they burned with local fans after yet another first-round playoff ouster last season. The team has sold out four straight games -- a startling run in light of early attendance miseries -- and are sure to make it five on Saturday.
But while the Stars started to rekindle that loving feeling, there's a cold wind ready to blow out the flames. Dallas can handle the Ducks and Sharks, but they haven't given any indication that they can compete with the Wings. Not beat the Wings; just battle them close enough to prove that they belong in the same conversation with the best team in hockey.
It's hard to imagine how a team that looks so confident, so capable, when it lines up against every other team can empty its pockets and fork over its lunch money as soon as it sees that famous winged wheel crest. No club is more spooked by the Wings' aura than the Stars, and no player pulls the sheets up over his head faster than Turco, whose career mark against Detroit stands at 1-10-5 after the latest de-pantsing.
That record's not all Turco's fault, of course. In Wednesday's contest he was given little offensive support from a group of forwards whose panic level rises dramatically against the Wings. It also didn't help that the team was missing four regulars, including big-minute defenders Sergei Zubov and Philippe Boucher.
But it's in those very situations that a No. 1 goaltender earns the role. He has to encourage his mates to hop on his back, rather than break their backs with soft goals caused by bad positioning and weak rebound control, as Turco did on Wednesday.
Given a chance to redeem himself the following night, Turco was chased just 13 minutes into a 6-3 loss in Minnesota, victimized for three goals on the Wild's first four shots. Thinking instead of reacting, the hallmark of his periodic plunges into ineptitude, Turco's wheels came flying off.
After the game Dallas coach Dave Tippett, steam venting out of his ears, wasn't willing to commit to Turco or backup Mike Smith for Saturday's critical start against the Wings. But while Smith may be the obvious choice, the skipper has to have the big picture in mind. When you play San Jose or Columbus, you're trying to get two points. When you play Detroit, you're trying to prove a point: that you can be considered a legitimate contender.
And the capabilities of Smith aside, Dallas can only earn that recognition with Turco in the net. The bottom line is simple. You don't pay a goalie $5.7 million to sit on the bench against the top team in the conference, let alone the league.
For the Stars to turn things around, both on the ice and in their heads, they need their best players to be their best players. And Turco is, without a doubt, the best, most valuable Star.
At least, that's what his paycheck says. Time for him to earn it on Saturday.