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Stars lose hunger, game

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Posted: Tuesday June 06, 2000 12:51 AM

  Ed Belfour Until Monday's loss, Stars goalie Ed Belfour had not given up more than two goals in 14 straight home playoff games. Brian Bahr/Allsport

DALLAS (AP) -- The gritty, grimy details the Dallas Stars specialize in -- the stuff that makes them agonizing to watch but tough to beat -- returned to their arsenal for two periods Monday night.

Then they opened the third period in the same stupor that's cost them dearly this series, and within minutes the New Jersey Devils took control of Game 4 of the finals and moved a huge step closer to regaining the Stanley Cup.

Dallas saw a hard-earned one-goal lead shredded into a 3-1 deficit in a span of 3 minutes, 41 seconds, all in the first 6:08 of the third period.

"We got our heart ripped out from us a little bit today," coach Ken Hitchcock said. "We went from quite a high to quite a low."

For 40 minutes, the Stars seemed to have found the extra gear Hitchcock was looking for.

"We won every battle for two periods," said Stars rookie forward Jon Sim, who played with the reckless abandon his team needed.

Then, the throttle got jammed.

Great puckhandling and positioning in front of the net led to a goal, a shorthanded breakaway produced another, followed by the knockout goal while the Stars were still trying to figure out what happened on the first two.

New Jersey's burst produced three shots, three goals and a 3-1 lead in the series.

"It shows how good of a team they are to be able to capitalize," said Jamie Langenbrunner, who missed the last five games with knee injury. "We have to play 60 minutes every night to have a chance to win."

The barrage ended Dallas' 7-0 record when Joe Nieuwendyk scores a point, a streak of nine straight wins following playoff losses and goalie Ed Belfour's run of 14 straight home playoff games without allowing more than two goals.

"It's not what they're doing, it's breakdowns on our part," forward Mike Keane said. "Unfortunately, every mistake we made tonight ended up in our net."

The collapse was amazing. It was as if the Stars spent the intermission following the second period dreaming about the series being tied; instead, they now have two off days to figure out how to climb out of their hole before Game 5 Thursday night at New Jersey.

Dallas' resiliency has been tested before. The Stars trailed 2-1 in the Western Conference finals, 3-2 in last year's conference finals and 1-0 in last year's finals. Nowhere in there, though, is a two-game comeback.

"It's possible, it's been done before," center Mike Modano said. "Right now, it's more or less focus our concentration on Thursday."

Of all teams, New Jersey is the least likely to squander such an opportunity. After all, the Devils just saw Philadelphia fold in such a situation, so they know exactly what not to do.

"We are not tired and we are not worn out," Hitchcock said. "We are getting beat by a hell of a hockey club right now."

About the only encouraging thing for Dallas is evidence that their maul-or-be-mauled attitude returned and was working.

Skill players were throwing their bodies around, no one was giving up on loose pucks and the defense was limiting New Jersey to long shots that Belfour clearly saw. Langenbrunner returned and Nieuwendyk, who hadn't scored in seven games, reappeared.

The demise began with nice puck handling by Vladimir Malakhov and a perfect pass backwards to Alexander Mogilny, who fired a shot into Belfour. The rebound went right to Sergei Brylin and he knocked it in to tie the game.

The Stars -- who failed to score on their first three power plays but cashed in the fourth -- went on a power play soon after, but instead of building momentum for themselves, they fired up the Devils.

A pass by Nieuwendyk around the boards was snatched by defenseman Ken Daneyko and fired up the ice -- without a Dallas skater anywhere nearby. New Jersey had an incredible two-man, shorthanded breakaway with no Star in sight until Richard Matvichuk came in at the last second. He was too late as shorthanded specialist John Madden, a rookie, beat Belfour.

Before Dallas could get over the shock of being down 2-1, the Devils stole a pass from Guy Carbonneau at center ice and Brian Rafalski drilled the final blow.

As for aggressiveness, Derian Hatcher showed a little too much in the later minutes of the period, viciously drilling Jason Arnott in the head after he had gotten rid of the puck. No penalty was called, even though Arnott had to be helped off the ice.

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