Stars Win Western Conference|
By Ray Van Horn, Jr. Copyright 1999
Game 7 of the Western Conference finals between the Colorado Avalanche and the Dallas Stars was colored by a few intriguing preliminary remarks, some of which were ultimately prophetic.
Colorado's Claude Lemieux noted that "I'm sure everybody was rolling in bed saying 'Oh, we could have finished them (the Stars in Game 6),' " and "I'm happy to be there (in Dallas for Game 7) too, because we're one game away from going to the Stanley Cup finals."
Lemieux's coach, first year skipper Bob Hartley, added, "I think we are going to see a great Game 7. The sad part of this is one team will be on vacation at the conclusion..."
Hartley may wish to eat those words in retrospect, as his Avalanche will be packing their bags in lieu of losing Game 7 to a dominating Stars team, 4-1.
From the other side's perspective, Dallas' head coach, Ken Hitchcock said before the game, "You trust your players, you trust your own instincts, then you just go out and play."
Sound advice, as his team did exactly that. An uncompromising Stars defense held the Avalanche to only one goal on 19 shots by closing Colorado's attempts to widen their zone attack, and negating them in the neutral zone.
The first period, slow in action at first, increased in tempo as the teams skrummed in the trenches often. Dallas thusly employed a tight trap defense that stymied the Avalanche for two and a half periods.
Jamie Langenbrunner put up the first goal for Dallas at 8:25 of the first period, scoring off of Patrick Roy from a cross ice pass from Joe Nieuwendyk. It was Langenbrunner's 5th goal of the series and his 9th in the playoffs.
Mike Keane scored the first of his two goals of the game in the second period, the first coming at 11:17. Pat Verbeek centered a pass that was redirected by Guy Carbonneau to Keane.
Keane struck again at 15:18, streaking along the boards to feign a shoulder drop and head fake, which left Patrick Roy vulnerable for Keane's wrister through the legs of the Avalanche defense.
With the game 3-0 at that point, the frustrated Colorado offense, which generated just 9 shots through the first two periods, had its building ire tempered by Dallas' smothering defense, along with a score by Jere Lehtinen.
Patrick Roy, in a desperate attempt to jump start his soggy offense, consistently flirted with danger in the third period, continuously coming deep out of his crease to set up potential plays down ice. His luck ran out on him, however, as he flubbed a clearing pass that was intercepted by Lehtinen, who lanced the easy target at 6:18.
The Avalanche got their lone goal from Joe Sakic, who chipped in a long pass from Theoren Fleury. Fleury had fought through two Dallas defenders to skip the puck free to Sakic.
The faithful at Reunion Arena were celebrating raucously with nearly two minutes left in the game as their Stars captured the conference title and a date with the Eastern Conference champion Buffalo Sabres for the Stanley Cup.
Dallas' Ed Belfour, though seeing less action than normal, was stealthy when he needed to be, stopping 18 of 19 shots. In Game 7s through the playoffs, Belfour is 3-0 with a 1.67 GAA. Teammate Brett Hull referred to Belfour after the game as "much maligned, and it's really unfair...he's come through in big times."
Reflecting upon the hard-fought series, Hull commented, "There wasn't a lot of room at times...we just (told ourselves) keep your nose to the grindstone, play within the system, and good things will happen. And they did."
Copyright©1999 The HockeyNut