Unstoppable in shootouts and unmatched in come-from-behind wins, Dallas is
primed for the pressure of the playoffs
Jokinen became the NHL's shootout king (he'd scored nine times in 11 attempts
through Sunday), the confident Stars rookie had already made a strong
impression on his teammates. Less than a month into the season, the 22-year-old
from Kalajoki, Finland, pulled aside several veterans, including captain Mike
Modano and three-time All-Star Sergei Zubov, and led them to a whiteboard,
where he drew up plays. "He'd tell us what he wanted us to do on a power
play. He'd say, 'Give me the puck here, and you do this,'" says right wing
Bill Guerin. "We were a little taken aback, like, who is this kid?"
It didn't take
long for his teammates to find out. Dallas is a remarkable 11-0 in shootouts
largely because of Jokinen's league-best success rate, and the speedy left wing
has also fit in neatly on the Stars' top line alongside center Modano and Jere
Lehtinen. On March 22, with the Stars trailing Minnesota in the third period,
Jokinen fed Lehtinen for the power-play goal that tied the score. Lehtinen's
goal was one of three that Dallas, the Pacific Division leader (48-20-3),
scored in the period en route to a 4-2 win.
No team has pulled
out more come-from-behind victories this season than the Stars. Dallas has won
an NHL-record 11 games in which it trailed after two periods, and the Stars'
record in games they trailed at any point in the third is best in the league
(14-20-1). "We don't panic. It's something we learned from Day One when we
came back from a 4--0 deficit [against L.A. on Oct. 5] in the first period [to
win 5-4]," says defenseman Philippe Boucher. "We thrive on the
So does their
star, Modano. Coming off a career-worst season in 2003-04 (14 goals, 30
assists), he nonetheless landed a five-year, $17.3 million contract, and
through Sunday led the team with 27 goals and 43 assists. On March 11 against
Vancouver, Dallas was down a goal when Modano scored twice to lift the Stars to
a 2-1 victory. Says coach Dave Tippett of Modano's season, "I knew Mike was
going to rebound."
couldn't foresee was how easily the 5'11", 190-pound Jokinen would adapt
and excel. Taken with the 192nd pick in 2001, Jokinen--a methodical player who
studies power-play footage from every Dallas game--had 16 goals and 35 assists
at week's end. And he does his best work with the game on the line. Says
Jokinen of his shootout scoring, "I really enjoy it when 20,000 people get
up and cheer me or boo me."
Like their rookie,
the never-say-die Stars seem primed for the playoffs. "That'll be the real
test," Guerin says. "We've been in a lot of pressure situations this
year. We're going to have to try to use that to our advantage."
Nothing but a Charade
Although the NHL
appeared to crack down on excessively curved sticks when it decided in February
to measure the blades before shootouts, league hockey operations vice president
Mike Murphy told SI that it was a "Band-Aid solution." In fact, the NHL
has seized the moral middle ground. While use of illegal goalie equipment costs
a netminder a two-game suspension without pay and carries fines to the team and
its equipment manager, an illegal stick costs a skater only two minutes during
regulation or disqualification from a shootout. Perhaps the ambivalence
reflects a growing sentiment among general managers to allow unlimited
curvature--a logical extension of the league's efforts to boost scoring. The
G.M.'s will revisit the stick curvature issue next summer, and will either have
to get serious or return to the banana-blade era of the 1960s. --Michael
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