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Day at a Glance
Don't confuse trailing Stars with South
Posted: Monday June 05, 2000 11:47 AM
By David Vecsey, CNNSI.com
DALLAS -- It's D-Day in Big D.
Of course, that's the wrong war to allude to when you are dealing with Stars coach Ken Hitchcock, who is a notorious Civil War buff. And at Sunday's off-day news conference, it was interesting to note that every Civil War analogy made by the press placed Hitchcock's Stars in the role of the South ... which, as you'll recall, lost.
"I prefer to think we are on that march to Savannah," Hitchcock corrected, noting that his team only trails the New Jersey Devils 2-1 in the best-of-seven Stanley Cup finals.
"We win [tonight] and all you people are telling us how great we are."
If the Stars win tonight, what people might say is what battlers they are ... because this clearly is a team on the ropes. But a loss tonight in Game 4 would send the series back to New Jersey with the Devils looking to close it out. And that doesn't bode well for the Stars.
Hitchcock wants his team to dig deeper than it has through the first three games.
"I can tell you one thing," he said, "from our standpoint, we feel like we have been outplayed for more minutes than we have outplayed them. We have got an opposition that is as determined as we are. They are doing to us what we'd like to do to them.
"It is a feeling that you have. It is a feeling where the mind takes over from the body. The body becomes irrelevant. Our players know that feeling and we feel like we can go to that. It is an awful hard way to have to play, but there is not much time left in this season and we just feel like our group feels pretty passionate that this opposition is as strong as anybody we have ever seen in our lives and we are going to have to go there now."
The buddy system
So much has been made about the return of Jamie Langenbrunner to Dallas' lineup tonight and how that should help light a spark under the struggling Joe Nieuwendyk ... but I don't buy it. Nieuwendyk is a 13-year veteran with two Stanley Cup rings on his fingers and a Conn Smythe Trophy on his mantel. Why should his level of play be so closely tied to that of a fourth-year player -- albeit a talented one -- like Langenbrunner? Nieuwendyk, who scored 17 points in 23 playoff games last year, has but nine points in 20 playoff games this year, zero in the three finals games. Nieuwendyk's teammates took some time yesterday to defend him to the ever-pressing media. "I think just because Joe hasn't scored six or seven goals in the series that everybody thinks he's not playing very well," said defenseman Richard Matvichuk. "Joe is playing very well for us. If you look at the game tapes ... Joe's line spent a lot of time on the offensive zone. Just because last year he won the Conn Smythe Trophy, everyone expected him to come in here and score 12 goals in the series. It is beyond that."
Line cooks |
A sure sign of trouble is a coach playing mix-and-match with his lines in the middle of the last series of the season. In Game 3, Hitchcock tried separating Nieuwendyk and Scott Thorton, playing Nieuwendyk with Jere Lehtinen for a spell. "We use Lehtinen as a catalyst. When somebody is not going well, we put him with Lehtinen. And if I'm having a bad day, Lehtinen comes for coffee with me." Hitchcock's top line of Hull-Modano-Lehtinen played well over 20 minutes, with five other forwards playing 10:03 or less. On the other side of the ice, Devils coach Larry Robinson continues to roll four lines with ruthless precision. Only top defensemen Scott Niedermayer and Scott Stevens logged over 20 minutes, while everybody else on the team played between 11:02 and 19:39. "When you get to this point in the season, it becomes very important not just because of the heat and humidity, but just the long grind of the season. Guys get tired. And when guys get tired, they get hurt. But I also believe there is a time when you have to cut your bench down ... but any time you can use most of your personnel, it bodes well."
Upset in the making?
Going into the conference finals, there certainly was sentiment that the victor in the East would merely serve as fodder for the West winner in the Stanley Cup. So suddenly, this series has the feel of an upset, a feeling the Devils don't share, however. "But, we don't see a lot of the West," said Scott Stevens, "and that could be the reason why. "They don't see a lot of us. I think we are both very good hockey teams and we are both similar and that is why we are in the finals."