DENVER Less than 48 hours after appearing ready to relinquish the Stanley Cup, the defending champion Dallas Stars are very much alive.
With coach Ken Hitchcock juggling his lines, goalie Ed Belfour continuing his torrid play and sniper Brett Hull scoring twice, Dallas beat Colorado 4-1 yesterday in Game 4 of the Western Conference finals.
The best-of-7 series, tied 2-2, resumes tomorrow in Dallas. The Avalanche won Game 1 in Dallas by a 2-0 count, but that was the Stars’ only loss in eight games this spring at Reunion Arena.
“You can’t expect to be too successful down 3-1 going against a quality team like these guys, so this game was huge, especially after we had kind of a lackluster effort in Game 3 [a 2-0 loss],” Hull said. “We played more our style and capitalized on our chances. The team that’s winning [seems to be] the team that’s capitalizing on its good chances. I wasn’t happy we threw people together in an important game who hadn’t played together, but it worked, so kudos to the coach.”
The Stars, who were shut out by Colorado goalie Patrick Roy in two of the first three games, dealt the Avalanche their first defeat in eight home playoff games despite being outshot 39-15. In the second period alone, Colorado outshot Dallas 21-4. In the two games at Pepsi Center, the Avalanche had 79 shots to 36 for the Stars. But Belfour, who outplayed Roy in Dallas’ seven-game defeat of Colorado in the 1999 Western finals, stopped 76 of those 79 shots.
“It was a frustrating day,” said Avalanche defenseman Adam Foote, who was a minus-2 in his return to action after being high-sticked in the right eye in Game 2. “We spent a lot of time in their end, we had a lot of chances and they just didn’t go in.”
Avalanche center Joe Sakic credited Belfour for that, as did his Stars counterpart Joe Nieuwendyk, who opened the scoring with a backhand over Roy’s right shoulder on a power-play at 7:52 of the first period on a assist from new linemate Jamie Langenbrunner.
The 1999 playoff MVP’s failure to score in the series’ first three games had been the biggest reason for Hitchcock’s tinkering. Dallas also benefited from the return of top-line left wing Brenden Morrow, who supposedly was out for the series after fracturing his left ankle in Game 1. Morrow was on the ice when Hull scored his first goal, a top-shelf blast on a feed from center Mike Modano at 17:30 of the first period. Hull’s 83rd career playoff goal proved to be the game-winner and moved him into sixth place all-time past Maurice “Rocket” Richard, who’s gravely ill with cancer in Montreal.
Hull’s second goal at 7:52 of the second period briefly quelled a furious stanza by the Avalanche. Defensive-minded left wing Dave Reid, a member of Dallas’ 1999 Cup winners, had grabbed a Modano turnover and whipped a shot past Belfour’s glove at 1:43 to bring Colorado within 2-1. But six minutes later, Modano chipped the puck out of the Dallas zone. Hull grabbed it just shy of center ice, skated into the Colorado zone and fired the puck off Roy’s right skate and into the net.
“We were on our heels a little bit, [so] that was a huge goal for us,” Hitchcock said.
Defenseman Richard Matvichuk made it 4-1 on a rebound of another Hull blast 4:39 into the third period. The Avalanche, who had their top defensive pairing of Foote and Ray Bourque together for the first time in 20 days, hadn’t allowed four goals in their past 22 games. The 4-1 score is also a bad harbinger for Colorado; that was the result of the final two games of last year’s playoff loss to Dallas.
Notes Stars center Guy Carbonneau skated in his 222nd playoff game, passing Avalanche assistant coach Bryan Trottier for fourth all-time. If Dallas makes the finals, Carbonneau should also move ahead of Glenn Anderson (225) and New Jersey coach Larry Robinson (227) for second place. Vancouver’s Mark Messier has the record with 236 games… . Scoring first is key for both Dallas and Colorado. The Stars are 9-1 this spring when making it 1-0. The Avalanche are 8-1… . Belfour’s 36 playoff victories the last three years are 11 more than the total of runner-up Chris Osgood of Detroit. Roy is tied for third at 24 with Buffalo’s Dominik Hasek… . The Stars won four of the previous seven-game series in which they won Game 4 to even the series.