Last night, the Dallas Stars played the Anaheim Ducks at the American Airlines Center in Dallas. The 81st game of the season, between two teams not going to the playoffs. The last home game of the season for the Stars. A meaningless game ...
... that turned into the second most memorable game in Dallas Stars franchise history. The Hockey Gods surely were watching over Dallas last night.
Mike Modano, Marty Turco, and Jere Lehtinen, all long time Stars, all unrestricted free agents this summer, all critical parts of the Stars team, may very well have played their last home game in Dallas.
Modano has been the franchise's golden boy since he was drafted #1 by the then Minnesota North Stars back in 1988. Now 39, he has spent his entire carerr in a Stars' uniform. He is the leader in American born hockey players for goals, assists, points, and just about every offensive category the game keeps track of. He has not announced his plans, but every hint so far has him retiring rather than sign another contract with the team.
Turco has been the starting goaltender since the 2002/2003 season. A multi-time All Star, and NHL record holder, Marty has been a key part of both the team and the community. The last couple of years has seen his consistency fall a bit, to the point the Stars have signed a young goalie of the future. Chances are the team will not offer Marty the number of years or dollars he will feel he deserves, and those around the team have said its a foregone conclusion he will sign with another team. What a shame, this town loves Marty.
Lehtinen has been a quiet, reserved, extremely productive forward. He has spent his entire NHL career with the Stars. Jere has shown a lot of class and style, while playing a huge part of the team's offensive and defensive success over the years. He is likely to retire this summer and return to his native Finland.
The Hockey Gods must have written the game's script ...
Modano and Lehtinen teamed up to pass the puck to youngster Jamie Benn for Dallas' first goal, which tied the score 1-1.
With 5 minutes left in the game, a video tribute triggered a 3 minute standing ovation for Modano. Seen on camera on the bench, he was visibly hit, tears streaming down his face. The ovation would have lasted much longer, the linesman dropped the puck to get things going again. And then, the Ducks scored to go ahead 2-1.
With less than 2 minutes left, a shot from the point was deflected into the Duck's goal by Modano, tying the game. There was a question as to whether he high sticked the puck, which would have invalidated the goal, but it held up under review. The score held 2-2, went to overtime, and then to the shootout to decide the game.
Modano went second in the shootout order for the Stars, and scored. Lehtinen followed him and also scored. Turco held the Ducks scoreless in the shootout, for a Dallas win. Modano's goal was the game winner.
The three stars for the game were 3) Turco, 2) Lehtinen, and 1) Modano. The game couldn't have turned out better.
All kudos to the Ducks, who were patient with the tributes and classy with their respect. They knew what was going on, and were stand up guys for participating.
Even though I suspect that will be the last time I see those three on home ice for the Stars, I truly hope that isn't so. Modano still has what it takes to be a productive forward. However, there is no way that he, Marty, and Jere could top what happened last night with another year. What a wonderful way to close out their time with the team.
Modano has one more tribute hurdle to come. The Star's last game of the season is at Minnesota - the place where he was drafted and started his career. The hockey fans in Minnesota are still very fond of him. It will be another tear jerker, I am sure.
The only game in Stars history that tops this one, as far as I am concerned, was Game 6 of the 1999 Stanley Cup Finals, where Brett Hull scored THE GOAL to beat Buffalo (BUCK Fuffalo!) to win that season's championship.
Thank You Mike!
Thank You Marty!
Thank You Jere!