On the Road, Stars Shut Down Avalanche, 3-0
Special to The Washington Post
Thursday, May 27, 1999; Page D7
DENVER, May 26—The frustration of Colorado Avalanche right winger Claude Lemieux became evident shortly before the Dallas Stars clinched a 3-0 victory tonight in their Western Conference final series at McNichols Arena.
With about five minutes remaining, Lemieux had another of his three shots stopped by Dallas goalie Ed Belfour. While play was briefly halted, Lemieux skated past Belfour and angrily knocked his water bottle off the net.
That was about as close as Colorado came to getting behind Belfour all night.
Belfour stopped 34 shots on goal by the Avalanche, helping his team take a 2-1 advantage in the series.
"If you're going to win on the road in the playoffs, your goaltender has to be your best player" said Stars Coach Ken Hitchcock, whose team was outshot 34-26 in tonight's game. "Patrick [Roy] was their best player in Game 1 by far, and he was a great player in Game 2.
"If you're going to win, especially in a series that's this tight, your best players have to make the difference. Belfour has been our best player in the playoffs, and our team is giving him the necessary offensive support now."
Belfour registered his second shutout of the postseason, the sixth of his playoff career. He has allowed two goals or fewer in 10 of his 13 appearances in this season's playoffs.
"I felt really strong from the beginning tonight," said Belfour, who had three Colorado shots bounce off the metal posts surrounding the goal. "I saw the puck really well. The guys cleared the puck really well and I had some luck. The posts were on my side."
Unlike in Monday's 4-2 loss to Dallas, the Avalanche was able to put pressure on Belfour. Colorado could muster only one shot in the third period of Game 2.
But with Belfour playing so well in goal tonight, two defensive mistakes were enough to sink the Avalanche.
After a scoreless first period, Dallas center Joe Nieuwendyk continued his postseason habit of scoring the clutch goal. From behind the net, a Nieuwendyk shot deflected off Avalanche defenseman Aaron Miller's skate and trickled between the legs of Roy.
Nieuwendyk's goal, which came with 2 minutes 22 seconds gone in the second period, was his fifth game-winning goal of the postseason.
Dallas -- which allowed only six shots on goal in the second period -- cushioned its lead with 9:16 remaining in the game.
Stars left winger Jamie Langenbrunner zipped past Colorado's Milan Hejduk at center ice, which didn't go unnoticed by Nieuwendyk. Langenbrunner snagged a Nieuwendyk pass and fired a shot over Roy's left shoulder to give Dallas a 2-0 lead.
Stars left winger Dave Reid scored the final goal with 3:55 left.
The Avalanche faces the possibility that Friday's game could be the team's last at McNichols Arena, which is being torn down and replaced by Pepsi Center for next season. Colorado is 2-5 at home during the playoffs.
Avalanche Coach Bob Hartley also has to hope that two of his best offensive players -- Theo Fleury and Joe Sakic -- break out of a serious slump. Sakic, who had one shot on goal Wednesday, has only two points in his past nine playoff games; Fleury has one in the past six.
Hartley has kept his sense of humor despite the struggles of both players. When asked about Fleury and Sakic, Hartley said, "It's pretty late to make some trades."
"With those guys I have a lot of trust," Hartley said. "The scoring chances were there. As long as the chances are there, we have to stay positive."
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