By Allan Muir, 

Not to bury the lead here, but the second-biggest ratio the Anaheim Ducks need to worry about tonight is 7:1.

That's how badly they've been outscored by the Dallas Stars in the third period through four games. It's that fizzle in the final stanza that has the Ducks staring down the barrel at the most troubling ratio -- 3:1. That's the margin the defending champs are trailing by in the series, with Game Five on tap tonight at the Honda Center.

Two weeks ago, the Ducks were talking about what it would take to win back-to-back Stanley Cups. Heading into what could be their final game of the season, they have to be wondering what they have to do just to survive for Game 6.

Randy Carlyle's charges have reason to be concerned. They earned their rings last season with a brutally intimidating forecheck that created turnovers and led to goals. That was especially true as the games progressed and the constant pounding led to tired defenders rushing their plays to avoid another big blow.

That approach hasn't worked against the Stars. Despite being down their top two defensemen -- Sergei Zubov and Philippe Boucher -- and trotting out three rookies on the blueline, Dallas has effectively neutered the marauders and turned the neutral zone into a swamp, denying Anaheim's forwards the chance to build up speed on the way to wreaking havoc. On the rare occasions when the puck does make it into the corners, there's Marty Turco, moving it quickly and keying the Dallas transition.

And even when the Ducks are making things happen, as they did for much of the first two periods last night, it's still not enough. The difference? Turco has found a way to make the big save while J-S Giguere has not.

The much-maligned Turco has been good, bordering on spectacular, in three of the four games. Thursday night's performance was certainly his best of the series. He was acrobatic and confident, making plays instead of forcing them, especially in the first period when Anaheim had a chance to control the outcome. Yet, for all their effort, the Ducks were just eight seconds from being blanked for the second time in the series. An unlikely series of mental lapses by the Dallas defense led to Mathieu Schneider's too-little, too-late marker.

Certainly, the Ducks can take some hope from Turco's Game 3 performance. His mental meltdowns haven't exactly been once-in-a-blue-moon occurrences this season. But Turco also knows that this is his chance to finally shake the playoff choker stigma that's clung to him throughout his career. Even though last year's performance against the Canucks was epic, and his numbers (1.30 GAA, three shutouts) were sizzling, there was only one that mattered: four losses.

Getting to four wins, and getting it done tonight, is critical for the Ducks. Turco will be one motivated netminder. The Ducks also have to worry about the potential for the belated arrival of Mike Modano. The Stars erstwhile captain has been a presence on the scoreboard, picking up three assists in the past two games alone. But those points have been the equivalent of a Big Mac -- filling, but not exactly nutritious. Modano's willingness to remain almost entirely uninvolved in any play that might actually bring him into contact with a Duck hasn't been an external issue because of the Stars' success. But internally, he's certainly being asked to do more. Even approaching 40, Modano can still be a gamebreaker...if he wants to be.

And then there are the Ducks' internal issues. Giguere, so brilliant in winning nine of 12 previous playoff series, has looked decidedly average. He was especially sloppy on the Stars' two third-period markers last night that turned a 1-0 nailbiter into a 3-0 slider for Dallas. Are the back spasms that limited him toward the end of the season a factor? Probably, and that's why it wouldn't be a shock to see backup Jonas Hiller get the start tonight. The Ducks called up J.P Levasseur today, adding fuel to that speculative fire.

They also have to be concerned about their own unsightly play. It was a brain dead giveaway by Sean O'Donnell in the first that led to Joel Lundqvist's opening tally, and a third period Kent Huskins miscue in the offensive zone was eventually buried behind Giguere by Steve Ott. Pounding the Stars sounds good, but simply taking care of business may be the most important step the Ducks take tonight. 

One more thing the Ducks need to focus on: There has yet to be a single lead change in this series. The first goal is critical. A quick start and a break-even performance in the killer third period are the likely tickets for a return flight to Dallas on Sunday.


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