(Editor's note: First in a four-part series. Wednesday: Five reasons why the Philadelphia Flyers can win the Stanley Cup).
Are you not convinced the Dallas Stars have enough to win two more series and capture the Stanley Cup for the second time since moving to the Lone Star State in 1993?
Think their luck has run out after two very impressive six-game tussles against Pacific Division rivals Anaheim and San Jose? Think it's not possible for a team to set aside the distraction of a general manager firing in the middle of the season and still go all the way?
Here are five reasons why the Stars can skate with the Cup on or before June 9.
1. Marty Turco. The Dallas goalie who had a reputation of not being able to perform in the postseason has wiped away that label.
He started to shed the reputation in the opening round last year when despite his three shutouts against Vancouver, Dallas didn't provide enough offensive support and Turco was a hard-luck loser in seven games. His numbers were obscenely good: 1.30 goals-against average and .952 save percentage, yet there were some who still questioned his ability to escape the first round for a third straight time.
But maybe those were the same people who forgot he was in net for all six games of a first-round win in six games over Edmonton in 2003, Turco's first venture into the postseason.
For all his aggressive puck-handling, Turco can get into an opponent's head. Teams have to concentrate more on dump-ins and not take for granted that the puck is coming right back at them in a hurry thanks to Turco's abilities. Detroit isn't much of a dump-and-chase team, but the Red Wings put a lot of rubber on net and that doesn't seem to faze Turco either. Seemingly the more involved the 32-year-old becomes, the better he plays.
2. No. 1 forward line. The group that includes left wing Brenden Morrow, center Mike Ribeiro and right wing Jere Lehtinen caused nightmares for both the Ducks and Sharks, especially San Jose in the second round. Led by Ribeiro's patience with the puck, the group has continually cycled in the opponent's end, often leading to scoring chances or a goal.
Ribeiro is the playmaker, stronger in the corners than you'd expect, quicker and more creative than he's given credit for. Lehtinen is a solid two-way forward, helping greatly on the defensive end, but also adding an offensive touch. Morrow is simply one of the most under-rated players in the league. He's tough, smart, aggressive, but most of all he's clutch.
With the way Detroit has a knack for dominating puck possession, that attribute is going to be very important for Dallas' top line to help neutralize the Red Wings during the Western Conference finals.
3. Few expectations leads to little pressure. The Stars are like the Flyers in the East, two teams that have exceeded postseason expectations. Well, that is from the outside, at least. Don't kid yourself, both Dallas and Philadelphia are in this to win it, but neither team has had to listen to all the noise that surrounded other now-departed playoff participants in Anaheim, Montreal, New York, Ottawa and San Jose, for example.
It might be one reason why Dallas has been able to go on the road and win the first two games in each of its first two series. Then again, the preparation and attention to detail stressed by unheralded coach Dave Tippett and his staff has a lot to do with that, too.
Maybe, just maybe, that on-ice swagger that Brett Hull had as a player has quietly drifted down, too, from the co-GM title he holds with Les Jackson. The Stars have been a more relaxed group, and certainly the coaching staff could stop looking over its shoulders after Doug Armstrong was let go in November.
4. They got the Mojo. So they ousted the defending Stanley Cup champs and the trendy pick to win this year's crown in the opening two rounds. Talk about cultivating confidence and gaining playoff momentum. This is as good a time as any to take on the team with the most Cups in the conference.
It doesn't hurt, too, that Dallas got Sergei Zubov back in the lineup early in the series against San Jose. The Stars did a tremendous job of barely skipping a beat without the services of Zubov (sports hernia surgery) and fellow veteran defenseman Philippe Boucher. But to challenge for the Cup they were going to need all hands on board, and they're in pretty good shape in terms of injuries, all things considered.
Zubov was phenomenal in his first appearance since mid-January. His primary assist on Mike Modano's power-play goal 3:39 into the third period of Game 2 stood as the game winner in maybe the most pivotal contest of the series. Zubov scored the tying goal in the third period of Dallas' Game 3 win in overtime, and he logged a game-high 53:50 during the Stars' Game 6, series-clinching victory in the marathon that started on Sunday night and ended Monday morning.
5. And they still got the Mo. How can you not feel good for classy veteran Mike Modano, the 37-year-old who has been a part of the franchise for more than half of his life now. If you don't think this guy commands the ultimate respect, then you didn't see the embrace from Jeremy Roenick during the post-series handshake after Game 6. Here's a fellow American-born skater in Roenick who came back for at least one more kick at the can, his season – and maybe his career – just ended disappointingly short of a Stanley Cup again with a loss in the eighth longest game in league history, yet he shows his feelings toward Modano in that way.
It would be a fairy tale story for Modano, who became the greatest American-born NHL scorer earlier this year. The only way this gets better is if the Stars face Pittsburgh and win it all in Game 6 (that way it's on Dallas ice, presumably set for June 7). That would coincide perfectly with Modano's 38th birthday.