It's 10 am, the game isn't until 8 pm, and I'm already just bouncing around with nervous energy.
The first thing I read this morning just filled me up with pride and confidence.
There's the captain speaking plainly about the situation in which the Stars find themselves, and sounding like a man that's going to go out there and wreak some havok.
Morrow will not let his team go quietly into the night. He won't let them lose confidence and fold up, and this is a team that likes being an underdog.
"I enjoy it, to tell you the truth," Morrow said Saturday. "I enjoy listening to the media saying the pressure is all on us. I enjoy listening to [Sharks coach] Ron Wilson saying how excited he is about trying to make history. I enjoy hearing people say that we're ready to fold up.
"I enjoy it, because it makes it that much more enjoyable when we prove them all wrong."
When the Stars went into game 1 in the Shark tank vs the number 2 seed who was picked by more than one hockey mind to win it all this year, they were the heavy underdogs and won the game.
Everyone expected the Shark's best effort in game 2, the Stars still played the role of underdogs, and they won again.
Then at home the Sharks touted the strong road record, the dominance in Dallas, and the desperation that they needed to have. People said they were due, that Dallas wasn't talented enough to back them into a corner, and yet the Stars won again as underdogs.
Since that game the Sharks have been the underdogs. Maligned by their local media, questioned and booed by their fans, they're the mirror image of the Stars and they too have prevailed in the underdog role.
Suddenly the Sharks have good goaltending, timely scoring, and stifling defensive play. Suddenly they're the favorites again, and that's exactly where the Stars need them to be.
"it makes it that much more enjoyable when we prove them all wrong."
-Brendan Morrow, Dallas Stars captain
Here are a few things that I'm positive we'll see in tonight's game:
- Brendan will be pumped up and dominating the ice. His game is reaching a crescendo here, and he'll be rested enough to run at his A game.
- The crowd will be the best it has ever been. At least early, and especially if the Stars start scoring. This playoff crowd has been exceptional. They live and die with every shift, every save, every shot. There will be tons of energy in the building tonight.
- Thornton will be scary as hell. He's the focus of everyone's attention and he's elevating his game as well. He can be held in check for stretches, but it's exceedingly difficult to do that for an entire game.
- Officiating. The officials have had a rough series in general. They've blown calls, made good calls that have been overturned, missed calls, and made calls on invisible plays. This series has been a very civil one with respect to roughness in between plays, so the officiating crew and the system itself has been free to focus on calling a fair game instead of keeping players under control. That trend should continue, and if it does they have no excuse for imprinting themselves on the game the way that they did in game 5.
- Goaltending. Both Turco and Nabokov have been excellent in stretches, and both goalies have been beaten by breakaways. Both have excellent defensive hockey players in front of them and neither has been seeing a ton of shots. Nabokov looked fatigued early in the series, but he seems on his game at this point. He's giving up rebounds and getting beaten 5 hole though, so the forumla for success is pretty straight forward. Turco is his usual 95% excellent 5% "what the hell was that?" self. He's not giving up rebounds and he excellent in scrums, but he's getting beaten on the glove hand and the Sharks are working that part of the net repeatedly. If this ends up as a goalie battle then the Stars are in a little worse shape than the Sharks here, but there is enough offensive capability in these teams that it may not come down to that.
- Defense. The Stars Niskanen has been confused and nervous at times, and while he doesn't tend to make horrific errors he's less prone to good solid play down behind his own net than he's shown he's capable of. In my opinion, Fistric and Grossman should be unscratchable given the play that they've show so far, but Tippett seems to disagree with me. And then there's Zubov. He's not in sync with the team yet, and his series so far has looked like a microcosm of when Richards was traded to the team: awesome debut, then ineffectiveness until he re-syncs. Zubie's giveaways are the horrific kind, he's getting hit behind the net more than I'm used to seeing, and there are some scoring chance passes that are going through his stick right now. I think he needs to be backed off a bit, moved to the second powerplay unit so that Mo and Robidas can go back to doing what they had been doing, and generally worked more slowly back into the lineup. On the Sharks side Christian Ehrhoff has been getting schooled. Nuff said there.
- Turnovers. The Sharks as a whole have been prone to turnovers at the defensive blueline and in the neutral zone because they're incapable of dumping the puck in on Turco in order to establish a forecheck. The Stars have generated a number of good scoring opportunities from said turnovers, but have not converted enough because the whole team is generally backchecking hard defensively when those turnovers occur. The Stars are far less susceptible to the same type of turnover, but Zubov has given a couple of goals away with too-cute pass attempts that Marleau has picked off. If they Stars utilize their natural turnover advantage without giving up the horrific type in the offensive zone they'll win this battle.
- Goaltending. One of these goalies is going to have to make a game-changing save in order to win this game. If Turco makes the save on Campbell in game 5 this series is over. From the goalie's perspective, there are three types of goals in hockey: the goal in which the goalie has no chance (impossible ricochets, deflections, and missed defensive coverages ), the goalscorer's goal (odd-man breakaways that score on excellent shots), and the soft goal (everything else). Neither goalie has proven capable of shutting down the last two types of goals through the length of the series. The one that does tonight stands the best chance of winning.