SAN JOSE, Calif. – Give Marty Turco credit. After gift-wrapping a victory for the host San Jose Sharks in the final 30 seconds with a giveaway of immense proportions, at least the Dallas Stars goaltender was brave enough to face the music.
With the embarrassing play he made late in regulation of Saturday night's game, when Stars were ohhhhhhh so close to escaping with at least one, if not two, very needed points, it would have been easy to crawl into the stick bag and quietly exit HP Pavilion for the flight out of town without saying anything to anybody.
That, however, only would have compounded the situation the Stars find themselves in, a very good team on paper that's a long way back in the Pacific Division standings. The only way to get to where Dallas belongs is through leadership and accountability.
Maybe it started with Turco being forced to analyze a major gaffe.
"I really don't know what I was thinking," said Turco, who gets an A-plus for honesty.
To set the scene, Turco battled and battled all night while his teammates worked to finally even the game with a third-period goal. San Jose hasn't lost at home all season, and the hosts were poised to make it a 9-0 start, knowing the Stars would be a bit sapped from the late-night travel following a victory in Anaheim on Friday.
With the game tied and Dallas basically dictating the play throughout the final period, the unexpected happened. Sharks defenseman Brad Lukowich dumped the puck from center softly on goal, usually not the greatest strategy to set up a forecheck because Turco is considered the best puck-handling goalie in the league.
But on this one the goalie froze. He held and held and held, and when he finally decided to move the puck, he did so on the backhand right up the gut. The puck didn't travel more than 10 feet before striking the right skate of hard-charging Sharks captain Patrick Marleau.
The ghastly turnover was in the net moments later, when Marleau's second swipe trickled over the goal line, a shot that Turco's stick helped sneak over the line. The tie-breaking goal at 19:31 became a backbreaking goal for a rather fragile Dallas team.
"It was a hard-fought game. Our goaltender played very well, but he made a mistake that cost us," Stars coach Dave Tippett said. "I thought we competed hard. We found a way in the third period to get even. It's a game we've got to get points out of, [and] unfortunately we didn't."
Turco is no stranger to living on the edge. He very much thinks of himself as a third defenseman in terms of moving the puck, and he isn't shy about letting his teammates know exactly how he wants it played in his own end. Turco is a weapon for the Stars, not only in stopping pucks but moving them up the ice. He is the best in the business.
On Saturday night's pivotal play, even if he managed to slip the puck past Marleau, the next skater in the slot was San Jose's Devin Setoguchi. What, exactly, was Turco thinking again?
"Generally I watch them and let them dictate," he said. "But that particular time of the game I should be going high over the middle. I don't know what I was thinking, really."
The Stars have no choice but to move on and move on quickly. It's not like there's going to be a change in goal. It was a mistake made by a veteran leader who, among the other team's leaders, is really being looked upon to guide the team out of the surprising early-season slump.
"We've got no regrets," Stars captain Brenden Morrow said. "Marty played a heck of a game, made big saves at critical times. It's disappointing to not come out of here with at least a point.
"On the bright side, we played a great game against a very elite team. We're a team that's trying to find itself, and we put together pretty good efforts on back-to-back nights," he said.
Dallas has to look at Friday and Saturday as a start. The team had five nights off between a game in Boston on Nov. 1 and Friday night in Anaheim. The 5-1 loss to the Bruins, which included a total loss of discipline in the final period and sniping afterward to the press, has to be viewed as the low point.
Solid two-way forward Jere Lehtinen is about to return to the fray for the first time, maybe as soon as Tuesday.
For a Dallas team that allowed five or more goals in seven of its first 12 games (after doing so only eight times all of last year), permitting just two on consecutive nights against two of the best teams in the league marks a step forward.
"I don't think we've played two periods good this year," Morrow said. "It's big for our confidence. It's a tough trip coming out West; the Pacific's so tough."
Before Saturday, their 52 goals allowed were worst in the West. Turco was fashioning a 4.11 goals-against average and only a .848 save percentage. The power play was ranked 22nd and the penalty kill 24th – two very uncharacteristic traits of a Tippett-coached team.
Only Anaheim averaged more time in the penalty box than Dallas' 20.5 minutes per game. Mike Ribeiro had only one goal. And on and on it goes.
Take away Turco's blunder, and the Stars have something to build on.
"There's an old saying, you learn from adversity," Tippett said. "We're sure getting our fair share of it right now."