IN AN NHL PLAYOFF STORY SATURDAY, THE NUMBER OF TIMES THE DALLAS STARS FRANCHISE HAS APPEARED IN THE STANLEY CUP FINALS WAS INCORRECT. THE STARS, THEN KNOWN AS THE MINNESOTA NORTH STARS, LOST IN THE FINALS TWICE, IN 1981 AND 1991. (PUBLISHED 06/07/99)
In just four days, the Dallas Stars have gone from being on the cusp of elimination to being the favorite in the Stanley Cup finals.
Defensive-minded forward Mike Keane scored two goals tonight and Dallas played a stifling defensive game for a surprisingly easy 4-1 victory over the Colorado Avalanche in Game 7 of the Western Conference finals before 17,001 at Reunion Arena.
The Stars trailed in the series three games to two and were behind 1-0 in Game 6 on Tuesday before rallying to avoid elimination. They will host the Eastern Conference champion Buffalo Sabres in Game 1 of the finals on Tuesday. Neither team has won the Stanley Cup. The Western Conference champion has won the past three finals, all in four-game sweeps.
"I think from our team's standpoint, that is a textbook Dallas Stars hockey game," Stars Coach Ken Hitchcock said. "In the first period, we weathered a tremendous storm. They had us a little on our heels. When we started to push back in the second period, our confidence grew. That's the way we were all series; our confidence grew as games went along."
By the midpoint of the third period, several fans were parading up and down aisles displaying their homemade Stanley Cups. And with eight minutes remaining, the chant went up, "We want the Cup," a reference to recent domination by the team that has won the Clarence Campbell Trophy awarded to the Western Conference champion.
The Stars, who moved from Minneapolis prior to the 1993-94 season, advanced to the finals for the second time in franchise history. In 1981, then known as the Minnesota North Stars, they lost to the New York Islanders in five games.
The Stars advanced partly because of their gritty veterans -- Keane, Joe Nieuwendyk, Guy Carbonneau and Pat Verbeek -- and partly because of the play of goaltender Ed Belfour, considered by many the second-best goalie in this series. Carbonneau was particularly prominent tonight after Hitchcock made a tactical switch to have Carbonneau's line play against Colorado superstar Peter Forsberg.
"We knew if we played our game we had a good chance to win," Keane said. "The Dallas Stars pride themselves on defensive hockey. That's the way we play."
And it was Belfour, not Colorado's Patrick Roy, who delivered when it mattered most, stopping 18 shots and holding the Avalanche scoreless tonight until Joe Sakic's deflection with 6 minutes 2 seconds remaining. Belfour's job was made significantly easier by the Stars' concerted defensive effort. Colorado rarely managed sustained pressure in the offensive end and had few chances from close in or in the slot.
"We played really well as a team," Belfour said. "Our focus has been on firing on all cylinders."
Although Colorado carried the play most of the first period, it was Dallas that took a 1-0 lead on left wing Jamie Langenbrunner's ninth goal of the playoffs. Langenbrunner's one-timer was not struck particularly hard, but it was well-placed and appeared to surprise Roy as it snuck past his left skate and into the corner of the goal at 8:25. It was the fifth consecutive game in which Langenbrunner scored.
Keane, a member of two teams that have won the Stanley Cup, including the Avalanche in 1996, scored twice in the second period on a one-timer from the slot and a two-on-one to make it 3-0. He had scored just three goals in the first 16 games of the playoffs.
"The important goal for us was the second goal," Hitchcock said. "It turned our nervousness into energy."
By the third period, Roy's frustration was evident as he began wandering out of the crease to play the puck. Eventually, it caught up with him. Behind the net to play a long dump-in away from Mike Modano, Roy cleared the puck directly to Dallas's Jere Lehtinen in the right faceoff circle. Lehtinen shot it into the open goal for a 4-0 lead with 13:42 left.
CAPTION: Stars' Jamie Langenbrunner is congratulated after first-period goal in series-clinching victory.