By Allan Muir, 

A gentle reminder to the aggrieved hockey fans of Dallas: The Smiling Man did not cost your beloved Stars a Game 5 victory over the Sharks.

Sure, the nameless HP Pavilion video booth attendant seen grinning from ear-to-ear after Brenden Morrow's apparent goal was waived off makes for a convenient target of your wrath in the wake of San Jose's 3-2 overtime win. But even if he had been the one to make the call -- and he wasn't -- that wasn't the reason the Stars are heading home to Dallas for Game 6.

It's because, for the second contest in a row, the Stars were outworked in the third period.

Simple as that.

That doesn't mean TSM should plan any vacation time in the Metroplex any time soon. Or that he won't be reminded by a supervisor that he might be captured on camera and needs to maintain a certain ambivalence in the wake of any review.

But rather than focus on this straw man, the enmity of the Stars faithful should be reserved for their heroes, who effectively turned the neutral zone into a swamp for 45 minutes, but failed to match the desperation of the Sharks when it mattered most.

Watching this thing through the first two periods almost required Clockwork Orange-style assistance, so eye-glazingly dull it was. But that's the surest sign the Stars are imposing their will, playing their game on the road. This was a contest better suited for hip waders than skates, as both sides were content to bog the game down in the middle and wait for the other to screw up.

The approach worked well for the visitors, who built up a 2-0 margin on goals by Jere Lehtinen and Brenden Morrow, and put two more pucks behind Evgeni Nabokov that were disallowed on review (hello, Smiling Man!).

Even without the extra cushion, it looked like church for San Jose heading into the final frame. 

But it was the Stars who blinked. Were they stunned by the second disallowed goal early in the third? Clearly, their emotions sagged. While Morrow again was a force -- we're witnessing his ascendancy to the ranks of superstar in these playoffs, folks -- his mates couldn't match his intensity. Part of that was the result of San Jose's blanket coverage of Mike Modano and Mike Ribeiro. Part was the curious decision by Dallas coach Dave Tippett to limit Brad Richards to just 15 minutes of ice, far too little for a player who was acquired to be a difference maker in this exact situation.

But the game truly turned not so much on their failings, but on the contributions of San Jose's biggest stars. With the season on the line, they struck back with blue collar grit and white collar flash.

It was Joe Thornton, justifiably maligned early in the series, who started the comeback, winning a battle behind the Dallas net before feeding a slick pass out front to the red-hot Milan Michalek, who bullied it past Marty Turco to cut the lead to 2-1 at 6:20 of the third.

Five minutes later, it was the inimitable Jeremy Roenick, playing like a vintage version of himself, who found a streaking Brian Campbell as he slashed through the Dallas defense. A moment later, a laser barely eluded the shoulder of Turco and the game was tied.

At that point, was there any doubt? Just a minute into the extra frame, Joe Pavelski stripped the puck from Antti Miettinen along the boards, whipped around a rooted Nicklas Grossman and roofed it behind Turco to seal the comeback.

Just like that, 3-2. The game and the series.

The Sharks have talked the talk about taking it one game at a time ever going down three games to none. So far, they've proven up to the challenge.

And now they have to be in the Stars heads. Dallas played exactly the way they wanted, a virtually mistake-free game (the official stats generously showed them with zero turnovers), and it still wasn't good enough to generate a handshake line.

Prior to the game, Richards spoke of having three games to close the deal and that while they weren't desperate, they'd play like they were. Now it's down to two games, and they're headed back to the American Airlines Center, site of some of their most memorable playoff disappointments.

And they'll be facing a Sharks team that now believes they can outlast the Stars at their own game. That should make for a difficult homecoming for Dallas, and a tense crowd at the AAC, on Sunday.

At least they won't have The Smiling Man to contend with.


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