Thursday, May 08, 2008

A Stars blogger weighs in
A Round 3 Q&A with ADSP's Mark Stepneski

The top Stars blogger around is Mark Stepneski, who runs Andrew's Dallas Stars Page. A former writer and producer in television, Mark has regular press access to the team and has grown quite a following in Texas.

The site has been online since the 1996-97 season and is named after Mark's son Andrew.

Here are some of Mark's thoughts on the Stars' series with Detroit, which begins Thursday night in Hockeytown:

Fairly or unfairly, Marty Turco had a reputation as not being a big-game goalie in the NHL — has the fanbase in Dallas in the past felt he perhaps should have been traded?

There have been debates among some fans about Turco’s future with the team, especially when he struggled in the playoffs, and there was a healthy debate when he got the big extension a few years back, but I don’t believe there was ever a consensus among the fanbase that he should be moved. He’s had his detractors around here, but they’ve been a vocal minority if you ask me.

Does his history against Detroit, and in Detroit in particular, worry you?

Not really. He’s overcome a lot of hurdles here recently with his playoff performances. He’s got a lot of confidence and the history against Detroit is history. This is a new chapter because this is the first time he has faced them in the playoffs. This is a fresh start.

If you had to pick the Stars' unsung hero of the playoffs so far, who would it be?

Jere Lehtinen. He’s the third guy on that line with Brenden Morrow and Mike Ribeiro, and he’s a big reason that line clicks even though he doesn’t get a lot of the attention. He does a lot of little things that help that line create offense and he allows Morrow and Ribeiro to take some chances in the offensive zone because he is so good defensively and can cover up any mistakes.

He’s popped in a few big goals too. He’s just incredibly consistent.

Very few people are picking the Stars to win this series. What makes you optimistic they can pull it off?

That few people are picking them. I think the players are relishing that underdog role. This is a very good team that’s already knocked off Anaheim and San Jose. Those wins weren’t flukes.

They are strong up the middle with Ribeiro, Richards and Modano. They have a good defense with Zubov, Norstrom and Robidas, who has really emerged this season. Turco is a top goalie who has finally catapulted that playoff monkey off his back.

Bottom line: It’s a very good team playing its best hockey right now. Detroit’s a great team, but if the Stars play well they should do what they usually do – be in a position to win just about each and every game.

How big of a factor in the playoff run was the Brad Richards trade? And how much do you credit the GM switch for turning around the team's season?

The trade for Richards gave them the strong presence up the middle that I just mentioned. It took a little while for Richards to get his bearings in Dallas, all the line combinations to fall into place and to get everything clicking, but the trade has been a big factor in the playoff run. Richards’s line has delivered some big plays and key roles and has given the Stars some great depth up front.

As for the GM switch, it’s hard to figure how changing the guys upstairs had a big impact on the ice, but it did. I think there was a lot more relaxed atmosphere when Les Jackson and Brett Hull took over for Doug Armstrong. The team made few changes, outside of waiving Todd Fedoruk and went on a pretty good run. Then Jackson and Hull pulled off the big blockbuster for Richards, which was a key move that is paying big dividends.

Still, Armstrong deserves a lot of credit. He put a lot of this team together. He made the deal for Ribeiro, which was a steal, and he gave the leadership reins to Morrow and Turco, who have been leading the way here in the playoffs.

Why is it that Dallas is able to win without Zubov and Boucher? How have the young defencemen impressed you so far?

I think the fact that a player like Stephane Robidas stepped up and helped fill the void was a key reason. Mattias Norstrom, although he had some injury issues earlier in the season, has been a solid player for them down the stretch as well. It doesn’t hurt when you have Turco handling the puck back there, acting as a third defenseman and taking some of the pressure off when the forecheck is coming.

And those young defenseman have played well. They gained a lot of valuable experience because Zubov and Boucher missed so much time during the regular season, and that helped them as the team moved into the playoffs.

I had pretty high expectations for all three of those defensemen. They were all top prospects. Nicklas Grossman was expected to be an NHL player this season. He hasn’t been a big surprise. Matt Niskanen and Mark Fistric were expected to need some more seasoning, so they’ve been surprises in how they’ve jumped on the fast track. I think Niskanen has hit a wall here in the playoffs. This is his first pro season and the long season may have caught up him. He’ll be fine moving forward. I really like Fistric and have since the Stars drafted him back in 2004.

And, finally, can you talk a bit about the popularity of the Stars in Texas when they go on a run like this. What's the atmosphere like down there and what's a good example of the general interest level?

I think the Stars are definitely front and center in the sports world here in Dallas and Fort Worth right now. The Mavericks are out in the NBA playoffs and the Texas Rangers have had a dismal start in Major League Baseball. The Dallas Cowboys are kings down here, but it’s quiet right now in their world. There’s a vacuum and the Stars’ playoff run is helping fill the void, and with that their popularity definitely picks up.

The Stars have a very loyal fan base. A run like this brings in more of the casual sports fans. Media buzz helps in that regard.

I think you see a lot more talk about the Stars in the general media, on the local TV sportscasts, which don’t cover them all that much. Sports columnists who don’t write about the Stars much suddenly do. Radio show hosts who seldom touch on hockey are now covering it more often. There’s just more buzz in the area about the Stars. This area loves a winner and the Stars are winning.

A good example of the interest level is that 95,000 homes in this market were tuned in at 1:24 in the morning when Morrow scored in the fourth overtime to beat the Sharks in Game 6. That’s a Monday morning with alarm clocks set off to go off a in a few hours as the work week was about to begin. That’s a pretty good example of a high interest level.

A big thanks to Mark, who really runs a terrific site, one that's been on my blogroll for years now. Follow the Stars throughout the rest of the playoffs at Andrew's Dallas Stars Page.

A Red Wings blogger weighs in
A Flyers blogger weighs in
A Penguins blogger weighs in

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At 4:41 a.m., May 08, 2008, Blogger Bruce said...

We Oiler fans have evolved a genetic disposition to hate all things Dallas, but I'm liking the Stars of 2008. This remains a ballsy team which has dumped its most hated players (Hatcher, Belfour, Verbeek, Keane, Langenbrunner, Matvichuk, Ludwig and his illegal f***ing pads), retained some respectable ones (Modano, Zubov, Turco, Morrow, Lehtinen) and added some nice pieces (Robidas, Ribeiro, Richards, Norstrom, Matti Hagman's kid, and when is Boucher due back anyway?). It's hard to hate them much at all.

Especially when they knock out Anaheim and San Jose, two clubs which I have no trouble hating (esp. the former). Now it's Detroit, as Dallas attempts to repeat Edmonton's stirring 2006 run through the three powers of the West.

The Wings appear to be the class of the league, but that's been said before. Detroit have been first or tied for first overall for four seasons running, with nary a Stanley to show for it. Yet. The '08 Wings look like a team on a mission, but if any of the remaining teams has a chance surely it's the resilient and resourceful Stars. I'm expecting a close series, but if the Red Wings overwhelm even this opponent they're going to have to play some pretty great hockey to do so. Should be fun to watch no matter what.


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