Diane's Playoff Diary, 5/13/00:
It’s Not on Paper

 

Thursday night May 11, my daughter Amanda and I had a long discussion of the Stars’ prospects against the Avalanche in the Conference Finals. If you are a fan or a journalist during this interminable layover until Game 1 (which our family will miss for a wedding, alas!), there is not much to do except speculate. Meanwhile, in the end all speculation is folly, since the only thing that will demonstrate how these two teams play against each other in the third round is to let them play each other in the third round. On paper they are just too close.

Be that as it may, everyone seems to be making predictions. For example, ABC predicted that broadcasting the Devils/Flyers game on Sunday would get them better ratings than showing a game with the defending Cup Champs. The AP predicted that Colorado would win in six. My husband predicted likewise, although he could see the Avs wrapping it up in five (he’s not usually this cocky, it’s scary!). And everyone is predicting—rightly so—that general sympathies will be with Ray Bourque’s team as they seek his first Cup. In other words, the predictions aren’t showing a whole lot of respect for the Dallas Stars.

So did I have no good word to say to Amanda Thursday night? Did I decline to make a prediction of my own?

On the contrary, I said Dallas in seven. Translate that to: I’m not sure of anything except I think the Stars will advance.

I took this contrary position because it seems to me the lack of respect for Dallas is doing more than affecting when their games are broadcast. It’s also made people forget what it was, bottom line, that won them the Cup last year, and happens also to be the main ingredient for a winning team. Call it guts, call it grit, call it determination…whatever the quality is, it’s more important than anything you see on paper.

Why is Guy Carbonneau at 40 as valuable to his team as a world-class goalie or an All-Star caliber scorer? Because a round like this will come down to character, wisdom, and experience as much as saves and goals. Why else did the insertion of Ray Bourque in Colorado’s lineup transform them from chronic underachievers to Cup favorites? A team may turn to Belfour to hold them in the game or Modano to provide a big goal, but when that team is frustrated, anxious, discouraged, uncertain, they turn to someone like Carbo. And there will be plenty of moments like that in this series.

Game 5 of the 98 Conference Finals, Game 6 of the 99 Conference Finals, the last intermission of the Cup winning game…all were never-say-die occasions when Carbonneau showed us and his teammates what winners are made of. Those who look only at numbers fail every time to see Guy or recognize the importance of players like him.

And Dallas has developed plenty of players like him. Mike Modano, who sacrificed big stats to become one of the best two-way players in the game. Brett Hull, who was so badly hurt he shouldn’t even have been on the ice when he scored the Cup winning goal. Joe Nieuwendyk, eliminated from the playoffs one year by injury, who battled back to win the Conn Smythe trophy the next. Ed Belfour, who conquered his own weaknesses and now is doing so again. Mike Keane, Kirk Muller, Brian Skrudland, who learned to be leaders the Montreal way. Jamie Langenbrunner, Blake Sloan, Brendan Morrow, Roman Lyashenko, who have all watched their veteran teammates and studied to emulate them. Hatcher, Sydor, Zubov, Matvichuk, Thornton, Cote, Marshall, Gavey, Manson, who all are on the same page. And finally there’s our bonus player for the round, Jere Lehtinen, who’s made it back in the nick of time. Through a horrifically injury-ridden season these boys struggled together to win the league’s toughest division. They’ve been exercising their grit for seven months.

You know, we don’t even look that bad on paper.

So, do I have no fear of the Avalanche? Well, I can’t honestly say that. Am I so certain the Conference Championship is within Dallas’ grasp? Can’t say that either.

Nevertheless, I can say this: Guy Carbonneau has no fear of the Avalanche. And through his eyes I see a championship for the taking.

That’s why I’m glad he’s in my team’s room.

That’s why I’m saying Dallas in seven.

See also Bob Kravitz's commentary, "Stars earned all the right bounces," written after Game 7.


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