Yesterday, as I was trying to mentally prepare myself for THE GAME, I thought back to the first Stars' game that I really remember seeing. I had a vague memory that it was a high-scoring game by the Stars and that Eddie Belfour had a shutout. I went looking through the game statistics at DallasStars.com and found the game I was thinking of. On March 21, 2001, the Stars rode a shutout by Belfour to an 8-0 win over….the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim. In looking at the box score of the game, I found a couple of familiar names.
Mike Modano – had assists 46, 47 and 48 (all primary) on the season. Those assists came on three of the four goals scored that night by Brett Hull.
Jere Lehtinen – had assists 21 and 22 on the season. One of the assists was on a goal by Grant Marshall; the second assist was the secondary assist (after Mike) on Hull’s fourth goal.
He’s not mentioned in the box score, but Marty Turco was there, too – sitting on the bench as Belfour’s backup in his first NHL season. However, Marty Turco figured prominently in another spectacular game that season – one that he wasn’t even supposed to start.
On January 6, 2001, Dallas was in Boston. Eddie Belfour had an argument with Ken Hitchcock and hopped on a plane back to Dallas after the morning skate. Marty ended up with the start and made 33 saves for his first career NHL shutout – one of three he would have that rookie season.
Flash forward nine years. There have been good times and bad for our three Stars.For most of the early part of the decade, Mike Modano regularly put up 70-80 points a season. He won a silver medal at the 2002 Winter Olympics. He was named to the All-Star team three times, served as the Western Conference team captain in 2003 and was the Special Ambassador to the game when it came to Dallas in 2007. He was captain of the Dallas Stars from 2003-2006. He scored his 503rd NHL goal – the most by an American-born player – on March 17, 2007 in Nashville. He had his 800th assist on April 2, 2010 against Edmonton, just the 29th player to achieve that milestone. It would take another post to list the Stars’ scoring records that Mike Modano holds.
Jere Lehtinen may not have as many records as Mike Modano, but he’s made an impact on the Dallas Stars in his own quiet way. He won the Selke Trophy as the best defensive forward in 2003 - for the third time, with three additional nominations. He won a silver medal at the 2006 Winter Olympics and bronze in 2010, just two of a record five Winter Olympics he participated in for Team Finland. He won a silver medal at the World Championships in 2007. He was selected to the 2002 All-Star Game, missing it due to injury. He is only one of five Dallas Stars to skate in 800 career games. He ranks 8th on the Stars' all-time points list with 514. He ranks only behind Mike Modano and Neal Broten in games played for the Stars with 874.
Marty Turco started his career with the Stars in the 2000-2001 season as backup to Ed Belfour and made an immediate impression, posting a 1.90 GAA and .925 save percentage with 3 shutouts in 26 games played, winning the Crozier Saving Grace Award for the goaltender with the best save percentage. He would become the only goaltender to win the award twice when he won it again two years later. He was selected for the All-Star Game in 2003, 2004 and 2007. He was the third goaltender on Canada's 2006 Olympic team, behind Martin Brodeur and Roberto Luongo. He played in his 500th NHL game - only the fifth goaltender to accomplish the feat with one team - on March 2, 2010. As with Mike Modano, another post would be needed to list the Stars' goaltending records that Marty Turco holds.
The once dominant Mike Modano, who currently holds the Dallas Stars’ single-season points record with 93 points, now rarely plays more than fifteen minutes a night, usually as the fourth line center. He missed 23 games this season due to a rib injury received in the first game of the season and an appendectomy on March 15th. He only has 14 goals this season and just 15 last season - his lowest goal totals since the 2003-2004 season. Now names such as Richards, Eriksson and Neal fill the box score, while Mike ranks 9th on the team in points this season. But the soon-to-be 40-year-old still shows flashes of the old magic, such as when he had his 800th assist in his first game back after his appendectomy, one of two he had that night.
Jere Lehtinen is probably still the best defensive forward on the team, but he has struggled with injuries the last three seasons, playing 48 games in both the 2007-2008 and 2008-2009 seasons and only 57 this year. He has just four goals this year, the lowest total he has posted since the 1999-2000 season, when he only played 17 games. Jere also still shows flashes of his former brilliance. His second goal of the season was a shorthanded goal against Atlanta on December 17th. He had assists on two of Loui Eriksson's three goals on New Year's Eve. He is still able to make the right play at the right time, still rarely makes mistakes with the puck, and still is ready to check opponents with the force of someone 10 years younger.
As the team has struggled the last two seasons, so has Marty Turco. Last year, he fought to reach the 30-win plateau in a personal and team-record 74 games played, while posting the worst GAA (2.81) and save percentage (.898) of his career. He posted a 2.72 GAA this year, better than last year, but nowhere near his best numbers. His save percentage was better, and at .913, it was the best it has been since the 2003-2004 season. He seemed to be in danger of losing the starting job when the team struggled to win on the road in January, and has recently sat on the bench more than he has stood between the pipes as the Stars tested out new goaltender Kari Lehtonen. But Marty still shows signs of the skills that made him one of the top netminders in the NHL. He posted four shutouts this season, including two in eight days in February, both against Phoenix. He faced a regular season personal high of 52 shots, and made 49 saves (also a personal high), in a game against the President's Trophy-winning Washington Capitals. His no-look, behind-the-back save on Jamie McGinn late in the 3rd period of the game in San Jose on December 11th is the stuff of highlight reels, as was his performance in the shootout that same game, when he saved 10 of 11 shots in the longest shootout in Stars' history.
For one night, however, Dallas Stars' fans came to the American Airlines Center resolved to forget the bad and to celebrate all the good these three men have done over the course of their careers. If all the fans took away from the game were the video reminders of some of Mike, Jere and Marty's greatest moments and one (possibly) one last chance to say goodbye, it would have been an emotional night.
But Mike Modano was determined to give the fans something more. He had the secondary assist on Jamie Benn's second period goal, the third time in three games that the line of Mike-Jere-Jamie had shown up on the box score. Just as it had against Edmonton last week, it seemed fitting that the old-timers passed the puck - and the torch - to the youngest of the Dallas Stars. If that had been all that Mike had done in this game, it would have been a good night, but Mike was not done yet. With the Stars facing defeat after Bobby Ryan scored a second time (just moments after a moving video tribute from Mike to the fans and a lengthy standing ovation), Mike redirected a shot from Trevor Daley into the net. Was his stick above the crossbar? Who knows - and no one seems to really care, including the Ducks. There are no angry rants on the internet about how the men in stripes (and Toronto, by extension, after video review) robbed the Ducks of a win. Not this night. But Mike Modano still was not finished. After he ran out of gas on one of Dallas' best shots at a win in overtime at the end of a shift, the game was headed for a shootout and Mike Modano delivered. For the first time all season, Mike Modano scored in the shootout, a goal that would hold up as the game winner.
But Jere Lehtinen was determined to give the fans something more. He had the primary assist on Jamie's goal, taking a pass from Mike and sending it past two Ducks' defenders, who were converging on him, to Jamie in the slot. He helped tie up the Ducks' defenders in front of the net on Mike's game-tying goal. He also had a nice chance to win the game in overtime, but shot the puck straight into Jonas Hiller's chest. Just like Mike, Jere was not finished. After Mike scored in the shootout and the first two Ducks' shooters were stopped, it was Jere's turn. Again just like Mike, Jere was 0-for in the shootout this season, but tonight he put the puck in the back of the net. His goal turned out not to be necessary for the win, but it was the icing on the cake of this special night.
But Marty Turco was determined to give the fans something more. He was his usual acrobatic self in net, making some of the brilliant saves that he's been known for his entire career - making the difficult look oh-so-easy. His puck handling was on display as well, including a beautiful pass in overtime right past Bobby Ryan. Most would agree that there was not much he could do about the two Anaheim goals, but this was not a night to worry about defensive breakdowns or the fact that Marty gave up two goals on only 19 shots. Just like his teammates, Marty was not finished either. Marty continued to improve on the Stars' save percentage in the shootout. After Brad Richards failed on his attempt, Marty made a sprawling save on Dan Sexton to hold the shootout tied 0-0. After Mike potted his first shootout goal of the season, it was Marty's turn again. Again he did not disappoint, making a nice poke-check save on Corey Perry.
When Jere put his own attempt into the net, sealing the win for Dallas, the fans found that they had been witness to the best of old-time Dallas Stars hockey - when the team dominated the shootout, when the goaltenders regularly held the other team scoreless while the shooters continually put the puck in the net.
To have won this game was possibly more than fans could have hoped for given the way this season has gone. To have won the game in this fashion, with the three men the fans came to honor combining to hold down the fort in the shootout - THAT was more than anyone could have possibly dreamed of. Nothing could have been more perfect than what the fans saw this night - a goal by Mike Modano, a save by Marty Turco, and a goal by Jere Lehtinen. If it had been the storyline of a movie, many would have likely found it to clichéd and unbelievable.
But the Stars and their fans lived the storyline. Everyone came to honor Mike Modano, Jere Lehtinen and Marty Turco, and all three returned the fans' love in full measure, reminding any who might have forgotten why they are so loved and why they have meant so much to this team over the last decade. It was the perfect ending for a perfect evening.
No matter where their lives take them, Mike Modano, Jere Lehtinen and Marty Turco will always remember this night, as will the fans who witnessed it. If this is the end of their careers as Stars, there could be no more fitting end for it, by going out the same way they have spent their time in this city - as winners, both on the box score and in the hearts of the fans who came to cheer them on.