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Don't wish against the Stars

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Posted: Saturday June 10, 2000 05:56 PM

  Mike Modano and the Stars would rather focus on the present than the past. AP

By David Vecsey,

DALLAS -- You can throw the numbers -- and the history -- out the window at this point.

So only one time in the history of the National Hockey League has ever come back from a 3-1 deficit to win the Stanley Cup finals -- that being the 1942 Toronto Maple Leafs. And so the ever-ridiculous percentages continue to reinforce the fact that the New Jersey Devils should be able to win one of the next two games and finally wrest the Cup away from the Dallas Stars.

The NHL tells us that Game 1 winners (the Devils in this case) have gone on to win the Cup 48 of 61 times (79 percent). Teams winning Game 3 of a tied series (again, the Devils) have won 18 of 21 (86 percent). And now we find that teams holding a 3-2 series edge have won the Cup 22 of 26 times (85 percent).

To that, today, we say: Poppycock, balderdash and fiddlesticks.

What we don't learn from the NHL is what the percentage is for wisend defending champs winning a 5 1/2-period 1-0 Game 5 on the road and returning for Game 6 at home. You'd imagine it's pretty good. And the Stars certainly are feeling good despite their backs still being against the proverbial wall.

"Mentally, I think we have an edge," said Dallas' Joe Nieuwendyk. "[Thursday night] we said, 'If we can win this game, this could be a real tough loss for them.' They had the party ready. They had everything set to go. And we took it away from them.

"I think it hurt them real bad. You go that long and fall short. We come home with our fans. It's going to be a big night."

The Stars were virtually unbeatable at Reunion through the first three rounds of the playoffs, going 9-1 at home before the Devils came in and won Games 3 and 4 here last weekend. The Devils have always been tough on the road, and with a victory tonight they can match the NHL record of 10 road playoff victories they set during their run to the 1995 championship. In this series, New Jersey's 7-3 rout in Game 1 is the only victory on home ice.

Thus, more reasons to throw away the record books and stat sheets.

Home ice in the finals has been meaningless for over a decade. The last finals series in which the home teams combined to play at least .500 hockey was in 1988, when Boston and Edmonton did it. Home teams are 26-34 since then.

But in a game built on emotion and momentum, the Stars aren't buying into those numbers.

"I know one thing," said Stars captain Derian Hatcher, "I'd rather be playing at home than on the road."

Storylines We're Following

Conn job

When it looked like the Devils were going to skate away with this series, defenseman Scott Stevens was a virtual lock for the Conn Smythe Trophy. They still may and he still may be. But with two more games like he had in Game 5, Ed Belfour will make like an Eagle and swoop in on that distinction. Belfour made 48 saves in Game 5 for his fourth shutout of the playoffs, tying the NHL mark held by several goalies. He has singlehandedly kept the Stars in every game ... once he 86ed whatever cough medicine it was he said made him loopy in Game 1.

Let me out!

What's the old crank call? Do you have Lord Stanley in a box? ... or something like that. Anyway, the NHL really does have Lord Stanley in a box. He made a brief appearance on television Thursday night, when those white-gloved handlers started polishing and buffing in preparation for 22 Devils to sweat on it, kiss it, let their dogs drink out of it, or whatever it is they would do with it. Then, with the suddenness of a Mike Modano deflection in front, the Cup was gone. Stuffed back in its steamer trunk and carted down the hallway (right past the Devils locker room, in fact) and thrown onto a plane to Dallas. And that, of course, is the biggest storyline of the night, because by the end of tonight that famous Cup could be in the hands of the New Jersey Devils. Three of the last four championships have been won the road, by the way.

The waiting game

Before Game 5, the Dallas Stars said they were going to out-wait the New Jersey Devils. Well, nobody said anything about it taking 106 minutes, but the strategy, by definition, worked. The Stars played errorless hockey and kept the game scoreless long enough for their break to come. Expect more of the same tonight. "It's whoever can wait out the other guys, mentally break the other team," said Mike Modano.

Saving face-off

The Dallas Stars have always been a strong faceoff team. Through the first four games of the finals, they had won 148 of 267 faceoffs, about a 55-percent clip. In Game 5, however, they went nuts and won 82 of 130 faceoffs (63 percent). They won 34 of the 53 faceoffs in overtime (64 percent). "When you're playing a series against a team that is on the mark like New Jersey," said Stars coach Ken Hitchcock, "what you're looking for is just an edge somewhere. We haven't had an edge in this series in very many departments. We've been kind of chasing the series since the first game. But there are a couple of areas in our mind that we have an edge, and faceoffs is one of them. But at the end of the day, you're going to need more advantages in order to win hockey games."

Short-handed ... not

Barring a complete breakdown, the Devils will set a record for the fewest power play goals allowed by a Stanley Cup finalist since the playoffs went to four rounds in 1980. Killing penalties at a 92.3-percent success rate, the Devils have allowed just 5 power play goals in 63 opportunities. More amazingly, the Devils have not allowed a power play goal on home ice in 23 opportunities. Only one Stanley Cup finalist since 1927 has successfully killed all shorth-anded situations at home, the 1939 Boston Bruins (0 PPGA in 7 GP). Here is the list of fewest PP goals allowed by a Stanley Cup finalist: New Jersey (2000) 5 PPGA in 22 games; Montreal (1986) 8 PPGA in 20 games; Boston (1990) 9 PPGA in 21 games; Dallas (1999) 9 PPGA in 23 games; Montreal (1989) 9 PPGA in 21 games; N.Y. Rangers (1984) 9 PPGA in 23 games.

Here's to you Mr. Robinson

Devils coach Larry Robinson seeks to become just the 14th man to win a Stanley Cup as a player and as a coach. Oddly enough, the last man to do it was Robinson's longtime Montreal teammate Jacques Lemaire, who also used the Devils to claim his coaching title in 1995. Only four on the list won their coaching titles in the post-expansion era. Here's the list:
Both sides of the Cup
  As Player  As Coach 
Jack Adams  Toronto ('18,'27)  Detroit ('36,'37,'43) 
Al Arbour  Det. ('54), Chi. ('61)  N.Y.I ('80-83) 
   Tor. ('62, '64)    
Toe Blake  Mtl. Maroons ('35)  Montreal ('56-60, '65-66, '68)  
   Mtl. Cdns ('44, '46)    
Frank Boucher  N.Y.R. ('28, '33)  N.Y.R. ('40) 
Terry Crisp  Philadelphia ('74-75)  Calgary ('89) 
Hap Day  Toronto ('32)  Toronto ('42, '45, '47-49) 
Cy Denneny  Ottawa ('20-21, '23, '27)  Boston ('29) 
Eddie Gerard  Ottawa ('20-21, '23)  Mtl. Maroons ('26) 
   Toronto ('22)    
Tom Johnson  Montreal ('53, '56-60)  Boston ('72) 
Jacques Lemaire  Montreal ('68-69, '71, '73, '76-79)  New Jersey ('95) 
Lester Patrick  N.Y.R. ('28)  Victoria ('25), N.Y.R. ('28, '33) 
Joe Primeau  Toronto ('32)  Toronto ('51) 
Cooney Weiland  Boston ('29, '39)  Boston ('41) 

Marty Turco's shirt If you saw Dallas' third-string goalie interviewed between periods of Game 5, you couldn't help but notice one of the ugliest shirts ever stitched together. Well, it wasn't his. It belonged to former Star Brent Severyn and is somewhat of a good-luck piece. So good for Turco for wearing it.
Mike at 30 Mike Modano has scored in every game he has played since he turned 30. And they've all been game-winners.
Being back in Dallas At first blush, it seemed annoying. But this game should be outstanding.
T.V. ratings Probably a pleasant surprise for ABC, which had more than one exec shaking his head at midnight.
Refundable Prediction

Don't even unpack it, the Cup will be won in New Jersey by ....

Related information
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When the Stars need him most, Belfour provides stability
Devils vow to finish job: 'There's simply no choice'
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