@ Dallas Stars
February 12, 2003
American Airlines Center
If there's one game to me that represents the best of Sergei Zubov during his time with the Dallas Stars, at least on offense, it's this one.
This isn't much of a looker from the matchup on paper. The Stars were cruising along under rookie head coach Dave Tippett, having picked up points in 18 of their last 19 games and sitting at a sparking 32-11-1. The Hurricanes, meanwhile. were till in the pre-Eric Staal phase, 17-27-6 and just waiting until they could bring up their new star next season.
But during that game in a sold-out AAC, Stars fans got to see Sergei Zubov at his brilliant best, see possibly the most memorable quick fight (and best fight call) in team history. And unbeknownst to them at the time, they also got to see the Stars playoff hopes go up in smoke after an injury to a key player.
Before we get to the Zubov mastery or the injury that derailed what looked to be a deep playoff run, let's just start with probably the single most memorable fight in the AAC, even 10 years later. It was unquestionably the most remembered moment of Aaron Downey's tenure with the team.
Discard what you don't need.
For a while, though, it looked like that epic Downey fight might be the lone highlight of a bleak night for the Stars. Because once the second period came around, things took a turn for the worse.
First, the Hurricanes opened the scoring as Bret Hedican found the net behind Marty Turco. But the much bigger problem came right at the end of the period, when Turco hit a rut behind the Stars net and turned his ankle. Ron Tugnutt came out to replace him in the third period, and Turco would miss the next 18 games with the dreaded high ankle sprain.
But then the third period came, and the Stars flipped the switch. Not only did they outshoot the Hurricanes 10-2, but Sergei Zubov scored what very well may be one of the most skilled individual efforts I've ever seen. It takes a ton of skill to move so little and to make so many Hurricanes look so very silly.
If there is one goal I would pay really, really good money to have a clean highlight of, it's this one. The best I can do is this brief clip of it from a video the Stars produced for a ceremony years later. You'll have to excuse their odd choice of music.
For the full reaction, which includes some unforgettable turns of phrase, here's Ralph and Razor's fabulous call. It really was one of Razor's most memorable nights.
It was also led to one of the most memorable quotes I saw from Tugnutt. This came from the Dallas Morning News game story, but I can't find a link to that particular story on the archives for a direct link anymore, but it is included on this forum.
"On his first goal, it was 'Just shoot the puck, Zubie. OK enough, Zubie. You've scared them all away, now shoot it. No. OK, wait a couple more. Shoot it Zubie. Oh, good you scored,'
What can you say about that goal other than brilliant? Zubov basically skates in a straight line from the middle of the blueline to the faceoff dot then back out slight, but a series of head, stick and shoulder fakes send three Hurricanes sliding past him, one twice. That's efficiency.
But Zubov wasn't done for the night. Those Stars were also in one of their "Cardiac Kids" ruts, where they would have to go late into the night to find a way to win, and this was no exception.
As time was winding down in overtime, Philippe Boucher, in his first season with the Stars, brings the puck around behind the net and dumps it out short side. Jason Arnott is apparently engaged in a battle for the crease/wrestling match at the front of the net, and Zubov, aware of the time and place, also comes down in a last-ditch attempt to avoid the tie.
He outraces the late Josef Vasicek to the near post, and what followed led to one of the biggest smiles I can ever remember seeing from the usually unflappable Russian.
It was only the sixth time in the history of the five-minute overtime period, which came about in 1983, that the game was won the final second. Officially, it crossed the goal line with 0.5 seconds left on the game clock. That's precision.
The goals were so memorable, they even got Zubov on the record after the game to talk about his game-tying goal.
"You can't explain that type of play," Zubov said. "It's not like it's like school, where you can teach it. It just comes up and you do it. When you have some time and space, you just try to make a play. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn't."
"Zubie answered the bell tonight," Tippett said. "That's Zubie at his best. He's got a lot of skill and patience, and those are the top assets in his game."
The bad news continue to roll in through the end of the playoffs, however.
The lasting impact from this game was not the Downey clip, which has more than one million views on YouTube if you combine the several versions, nor the brilliance of Zubov. It was the loss of Turco to that lingering ankle sprain.
The Stars went 7-8-3 in the 18 games that Turco missed and lost some of the aura of invincibility that surrounded them early in the season. And even though Turco returned for the final stretch, going 6-1 in the final seven games of the season as he broke the modern-day goals against average record at 1.72, the team was never quite the same as they were before he went down.
In the playoffs, they struggled briefly with the Edmonton Oilers before dispatching them, as per tradition, in a six-game series win. But the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim took both games of the Western Conference Semifinals at the AAC in overtime, and the Stars could never recover, falling 4-2 in series. It was the last time they'd get that deep in the playoffs for six years.
Now, would the Stars have been able to advance further had Turco not been injured in that game? Hard to say. They did seem to regain some of their mojo when he came back, but ankle sprains are notoriously hard to shake, and even when he came back he wasn't quite the same guy. It almost certainly cost him the Vezina Trophy that year, which went to Martin Brodeur as almost a lifetime achievement award.
In the end, it's hard to say what might have changed if Turco had avoided that rut. But the combination of the magnitude of that injury, the absurdly memorable fight and the sheer brilliance of Zubov earns this game a place on our list.