Mike Modano stood by his locker last Saturday night—no emotions on his sleeve, no cast on his fractured left wrist—and answered questions about his injury with a casual vagueness. The only evidence of the injury were the white splotches left on the back of his hand by the soft, rubberized cast Modano had worn in the Dallas Stars' 2-1 win over the Buffalo Sabres in Game 3 of the Stanley Cup finals.
Does the wrist hurt?
"Not now, it doesn't," said Modano, a grin lighting up his face.
Four hours earlier a doctor had jabbed two needles just below Modano's thumb that froze his wrist more thoroughly than NHL ice in June. Modano, who had sustained the small break when checked by defenseman Jay McKee midway through the third period in Game 2, was once derided as the softest star in hockey. But in the trainer's room before Game 3, he had lived the Stanley Cup finals clich�, taking two shots for the team. His Stars then went out and absorbed 19 more shots against Buffalo, hurling themselves in front of Sabres slappers with masochistic pleasure. On a night when Modano could wield a stick at only 75% effectiveness, and right wing Brett Hull left the game with a strained groin during his third shift, and the NHL's second-oldest player, 39-year-old center Guy Carbonneau, was obliged to play an unusually high 19 minutes, Dallas put on a clinic of shot blocking and defense to take a 2-1 series lead. The Sabres had the seemingly lethal combination of home ice and younger, fresher legs, but they were so completely schooled that they were lucky Dallas didn't charge them $150 an hour for the ice time. "Sometimes when you take away a star, you're left with a system," said Buffalo captain Michael Peca. "And their system is great. They smothered us."
Dallas's Game 3 win, the most lopsided one-goal victory in the 1999 playoffs, was another delightful surprise in a weird, compelling series that seemed as if it were being played under a full moon, and not just the one Sabres goalie Dominik Hasek kept sticking in the path of Stars forecheckers. Consider:
?For the first time in more than three years—a streak of 104 matches—Dallas, the NHL's best defensive team, lost after holding a third-period lead at home, falling 3-2 in overtime in Game 1.
?Referees Terry Gregson and Bill McCreary called seven consecutive penalties against the Sabres in the first and second periods of Game 1, a run that defied the nudge-and-wink NHL tradition of balancing the calls in the postseason. Since 1996, refs had never awarded more than five straight power plays to any team in the finals. The referees also called two penalties against Buffalo and none against Dallas in the overtime, the first time a team has been awarded two power plays during sudden death of a finals game.
?The Stars were able to force overtime in Game 1 because in the last minute of regulation the blade of Peca's stick, amazingly, lodged in a slit between the boards behind the net at Reunion Arena. Modano swooped in, stole the puck and set up wing Jere Lehtinen in the slot for the tying goal.
?In Game 2 Dallas defenseman Craig Ludwig, a shot blocker supreme, scored a postseason goal for the first time since 1988, ending a drought of 102 games. "When was your last playoff goal?" Ludwig was asked in the dressing room after Dallas's 4-2 win.
"Third period tonight," Ludwig replied. "Weren't you watching?"