When the Stanley Cup finals resume with Game 3 Saturday night in Buffalo, the best-of-seven series likely will have a different look. Dallas Stars center Mike Modano, arguably his team's best player, has an undisclosed wrist injury and could miss the rest of the series.
Modano injured his left wrist midway through the third period of Game 2 on Thursday when he was checked into the boards by Buffalo Sabres defenseman Jay McKee. Modano immediately left the ice and returned to the locker room grimacing in pain.
Stars Coach Ken Hitchcock was vague when discussing the injury today, limiting his comments to say that the wrist is jammed but that he hopes Modano will be able to play Saturday. ESPN, however, reported that the wrist is broken. League rules do not require the Stars to disclose details of injuries.
"In the worst-case scenario, he's out 7 to 10 days," Hitchcock said. "We'll see how it feels. It felt a lot better today than we all thought it would."
Dallas tied the series at one game apiece Thursday with a 4-2 victory at Reunion Arena. Brett Hull's slap shot with 2 minutes 50 seconds remaining lifted the Stars in a game in which the Sabres appeared in control much of the time until allowing three goals in the final period.
Without Modano, the Stars undoubtedly face a difficult battle. Buffalo is 7-0 in the playoffs at Marine Midland Arena. In addition to Modano's five goals and 13 assists in the postseason, Hitchcock matched Modano's line against Buffalo's top scoring line of Curtis Brown, Miroslav Satan and Geoff Sanderson in Game 2; those three players have combined for just one assist in the first two games of the series.
"If we lose him, whoever steps in has to play well," Dallas right wing Mike Keane said after Game 2. "I know it sounds very cold and I'd like to have Mike Modano in there, but whoever steps in he has to play great."
If Modano does try to play, the Sabres likely will attempt to play him physically.
"I think you would be foolish not to," Sabres captain Michael Peca said. "I don't think if a guy's got a broken wrist that you are going to want to wind up and take a two-hander but you want to make sure you are physical with him. Any time he is in traffic try and get in his way and bump him as much as you can. Certainly if there is a weakness you want to try and exploit that weakness."
If the Sabres focus on Modano, Hitchcock said the Stars will return the favor.
"He's our best player," Hitchcock said. "If they go after our best player, we'll go after their best, and that's Dominik Hasek."
The physical play that picked up in Game 2 likely will be taken to another level Saturday. Some Dallas players felt Modano's injury was the result of a cheap shot; some Buffalo players think the Stars have played dirty and tried to rough up Hasek. Hasek was knocked around three times in the first period, including one play where Brian Skrudland was called for charging Hasek when the two collided in the corner.
Things were particularly heated at the end of the first period, when all 10 skaters on the ice paired off and the goalies came together near the red line. Dallas center Joe Nieuwendyk and Buffalo's Brian Holzinger were penalized five minutes each for fighting, the first fighting penalties in the finals since 1996 and Nieuwendyk's first fighting penalty since 1992.
Buffalo Coach Lindy Ruff said it was obvious to him that being physical with the player known as "the world's best goalie" was part of the Stars' plan.
"Right now, it is an eye for an eye," Ruff said. "It is a war. I mean, let's not kid ourselves, it is a war -- do anything to win. . . . We are talking about the big prize here and there is nothing fair right now, I realize that. I will do anything to win. Hitch is going to be the same way."
It could get downright ugly Saturday.
"If they want to get into a brawl matchup, they can bring it on," said Buffalo right wing Dixon Ward, angered by the Stars' run-ins with Hasek. "We'll take it any time. We'll let [Stars goalie] Eddie [Belfour] know we're coming. The goalies are going to have to stand up for themselves."
Ward also essentially called the Stars chicken, saying they were picking their spots when it came to being physical.
"They are choosing the lines out there for us to do it," he said. "They know when we have our small guys out there [is the time] to do it. It's up to the officials to make the calls, but they don't."
Notes: Craig Ludwig's goal in Game 2 gave him the distinction of being the player with the longest time between goals in the playoffs. His last postseason goal came in 1988 while playing for the Montreal Canadiens, a span of 102 games. . . . Hull led the league with 11 game-winning goals during the regular season. Thursday's was his first postseason game-winner. . . . Dallas left wing Jamie Langenbrunner leads all players with 12 goals this postseason.