By Allan Muir, SI.com
In the NHL playoffs, they don't ask how you got to four wins.
They just ask if you found a way to get it done.
The Dallas Stars took their first step Friday night, doing just enough to steal Game 1 -- and home ice advantage -- from the San Jose Sharks with a 3-2 overtime win. No surprise, it was on the backs of their two most important players, Marty Turco and Brenden Morrow. Turco was at his athletic best in stymying the smartly aggressive Sharks in the first and for much of a furious third-period assault, while Morrow silenced the boisterous HP Pavilion with the clinching goal, his second of the evening, at 4:39 of the first extra frame.
It was a good thing for Dallas that its captain delivered the knockout blow. If it had gone to the judge's cards, the Sharks would have been unanimous winners.
In fact, San Jose likely goes into Sunday night's Game 2 with the intention of employing pretty much the same approach. Odds are they'll get a more favorable result the second time around.
Game 1 will be remembered as a missed opportunity for the Sharks. They dominated the Stars for vast stretches of the contest, adhering diligently to coach Ron Wilson's demand for discipline, structure and intelligence with the puck. They clogged the passing lines, minimizing Dallas' scoring chances. They used their size, speed and a smart forecheck to take advantage of the Stars' young defensemen. And when they put the puck on the net, they drove hard for a piece of the action, a strategy that resulted in Jonathan Cheechoo's so-ugly-it's-beautiful tying goal late in the third.
It was a nearly flawless execution of Wilson's plan, with the puck locked most of the night in Dallas territory.
But the Stars, recognizing that they were on the road and overmatched on defense, took a page out of their franchise history book and offered up a gummy, grey rebuttal to San Jose's game. This was no thing of beauty. Instead of playing the aggressive third-period style that defined their series victory over the Ducks, Dallas simply locked it down heading into the final stanza nursing a 2-1 lead. They seemed content to play virtually the entire frame as though it were they were on the penalty kill, clogging up the front of their net, blocking shots and applying no pressure on any puck that crossed the center red line.
That's certainly not the style that brought them to the dance, but against this opponent, with this lineup, on the road, it might have been the most prudent course of action.
Amazingly, it appeared as though it actually might work, much as it had in Game 6 against Anaheim, before Cheechoo's tip-in during a furious crease incursion at 16:58 of the third forced Dallas to abandon the play-not-to-lose approach.
And that was when they started looking like the Stars again: A confident puck-possession team with the talent to shove the game right back down the throats of the Sharks. And there was the captain, leading the way, doing exactly what a captain is supposed to do at this time of year. Aided by linemates Mike Ribeiro and Jere Lehtinen, Morrow is crafting a rep as a playoff warrior, a guy who makes big plays at big moments.
That has to give the Sharks reason to be concerned. So does the fact that they're 0-7-1 in their last eight seven meetings with Dallas at the Shark Tank. And Turco now sports a career record of 13-3-1 in San Jose.
San Jose should have won this game. They didn't. And now Dallas is one step closer to four.
Quick Hits: As a group, the Dallas defense seemed ill-prepared to handle the Sharks, but one youngster continues to stand out ... and not in a positive light. Matt Niskanen, who'll probably end up on the league's All-Rookie Team, looks as though he's hit the wall. It was his brutal decision to send a clearing pass up the middle that led directly to Milan Michalek's battery-powered first-period goal. No. 1 defender Sergei Zubov skated in the warmups, but he's yet to make his first postseason appearance. When he does, possibly as soon as Sunday, it might be time to give Niskanen a breather.
Most goalies embellish the effect of even the slightest contact with an opposing skater, but few do it with such flair as Turco. His comically delayed reaction to being brushed by Craig Rivet in the first was pure ham. Of course, it also negated the majority of a San Jose power play, so he's likely to continue working that angle. As blatant as he is at times, it seems like only a matter of time before this habitual offender is nailed in the playoffs.
Although Michalek finally got off the playoff schnide with his first score of the postseason, he's clearly not out of the woods. Given multiple opportunities to enter the zone with possession, he continued to use his speed to work the puck to the outside. The Stars, expecting exactly that, had little problem negating these chances. At his size (6-foot-2, 225), there's no reason he can't try to bust one down the middle every now and then, if only to throw off the defense by implying he has options.
Patrick Marleau's been a force in the playoffs, but his double flamingo on the penalty kill in the second led to Mike Modano's game-tying marker and ignited a Stars team that looked as though it were ready to be buried. It's no fun blocking a slapper launched from a few yards distance, but these are the playoffs. Bruises heal.