“There is nothing more vulnerable then entrenched success.” – George Romney
The Red Wings were perhaps the best team in the league this year as they pounded their way to the conference championships. Their 115 points more then five wins above that of the Eastern’s top team and is nearly seven above that of the Eastern’s challenger in the finals.
But now they’re two losses away from the golf course.
It was only their first-round opponents that showed them any fight, and even then it was the familiarity of the two: they had played some eight times this season. They both knew each other well and played to six games, where the Wings prevailed.
Next up for Detroit was the Colorado Avalanche. As far as modern rivalries go, those two made for one of the best. However, it was not to be: Detroit hammered them into submission, sweeping them and winning the final game by six goals.
It looked like the same for the conference finals, too. Detroit quickly ran to a 3-0 series lead and as game four approached, some quickly began to handicap the Stanley Cup finals. Simply put, the Stars were out of gas.
But then Turco had one of the best games of his life.
Making 33 saves in a 3-1 Dallas win, he was named the first star of the game: the first time a Dallas player had been named so in the series. The last gasp of a team burning all it has, perhaps.
But as the series shifted back to Detroit, where Dallas’ netminder Marty Turco had never won and where the Red Wings looked to have the advantage.
Where again, the Stars won, this time 2-1.
For a team that had a 3-0 series lead, losing two games in a row could be seen as a collapse. Or as misjudging their opponent, at the least. But it could also mean that Dallas is back in the series.
The roots of this can be drawn back the second round, when the Stars beat the San Jose Sharks. In a tightly fought series that went six games – the sixth of which went into a fourth overtime – it’s not hard to see the Stars as a team that ran out of gas.
But given some time, the Stars could have gotten back into the shape of things. With two wins, they have given themselves some momentum – suddenly, they’re not also-rans, but a team with a good shot at forcing a game seven. They’ve looked sharp in their last two games. With a little help from a couple injuries to Detroit (the leading scorer for the Red Wings, Johan Franzen, has missed four straight games now), the Stars have kept the Wings off the score sheet.
In games four and five, the Wings only scored once, the first time they were held to less then two goals this playoffs.
And perhaps, the Red Wings let their success get to them, too. The Stars have already forced a game six– the first time that a series the Wings led 3-0 has gone this far - where they’ll play on home ice.
It wouldn’t be the first time that a strong Detroit team has struggled in the playoffs. In 2006, they won the Presidents Trophy after finishing the season with 124 points – yet lost to the eighth seeded Edmonton Oilers in six games. Then last year, they lost a tightly-contested conference finals to Anahiem, again in six, losing their final three games.
For all of their regular season success lately – three straight seasons as the number one seed in the West – they have surprisingly little to show for it; two playoff upsets in a row (to teams that won the west, coincidentally).
With the way the Stars have looked lately, could history repeat itself again?
It’s looking more and more likely.