By Allan Muir, SI.com
The words were out of my mouth almost before I'd had time to recognize the ramifications.
"Gimme the Stars in six."
It was a morning drive radio show -- not even one in an NHL market --but still, it was out there. I've called Dallas to beat Detroit in the Western Conference Finals on the air. Might as well go national with it.
I say this with some hesitation because, let's face it, the evidence suggests that the Stars will be cleaning out their lockers in short order. This is a terrible matchup for them. Forget that the Wings were the best team in the regular season, and have done nothing in the playoffs to suggest they've slipped from that perch. All you need to know is that the Wings are Dallas' Kryptonite. Biff to their George McFly. The Stars can man up against 28 other teams, but when they see the red and white, it's like they're little kids again, facing off against a group of bullies that has tormented them for years.
And, man, are these bullies rolling! It's not just the spectacular individual skills of forwards like Henrik Zetterberg, Pavel Datsyuk and, yes, Johan Franzen. It's also the game's deepest defense, the crafty coaching of Mike Babcock and the surprisingly capable netminding of Chris Osgood.
The Wings are a team without deficiency.
Still, I've got this gut feeling. Things are about to change.
Here are the four reasons I've used to convince myself:
1) Physical play. Don't let anyone tell you the Wings can't bang. They're a tough group, capable of exacting a toll away from the boards as well as against them. But the Stars have a bit of an edge in this department, and they've honed their game in two hard-fought series against the Ducks and Sharks, the roughest clubs in the West. Their game is at a higher level than that of the Wings, who played a couple of creampuffs in Nashville and Colorado.
2) The goaltending of Marty Turco. I tend to think that goaltending won't be the deciding factor in this series that some are making it out to be. That said, Turco is primed to beat down his personal demons. He's used his last three series to demonstrate that he can deliver in the playoffs. Now he's motivated to prove he can take down the one team that's treated him like a chew toy throughout his career. Turco isn't just in a zone right now. That four-overtime victory in Game 6 against the Sharks imbued him with the confidence he can be THAT guy, the one who bends while the other guy breaks. He's already outlasted J-S Giguere and Evgeni Nabokov. Osgood's been solid thus far, but he isn't in their class.
3) Brenden Morrow: I love Nick Lidstrom's brand of quiet leadership during the season. But during the playoffs, give me the guy who'll shoot stragglers just as quickly as he'll lead the charge. There will be no passengers on the Stars bench, and that level of commitment is exactly what's needed to win the small but critical battles that will decide each game. Morrow has emerged as a true superstar in these playoffs with his scoring touch and disciplined physical play. As great as Turco was, who knows if Dallas would have survived Game 6 without Morrow's 19 hits -- that's almost twice as many as teammate Mike Modano had in the entire regular season -- or his elimination of Stars-killer Milan Michalek at the end of the third period. Morrow has broad shoulders, and the Stars have climbed aboard.
4) A history of disappointment. The Wings have been consistently good for so long that you almost give them a pass to the Cup final. But this also is a team with a legacy of failing to live up to expectations. The last four times they finished first (or tied for first) overall, they fell flat in the playoffs. Time to reverse the curse? Maybe...but it says here they get stopped short once again.
So, yeah, Stars in six.
Allan Muir is the senior editor of Beckett Hockey magazine and serves as the NHL's official scorer for Dallas Stars home games.