DALLAS - The Dallas Stars opened the playoffs with a shutout on the road against the reigning Stanley Cup champions, took a 2-0 lead in Game 2 and seemed well on their way to ending their streak of post-season flops.
Then they gave up a goal. Then another, later the same period. And as the period ended, team captain Brenden Morrow was called for charging, giving the Anaheim Ducks all intermission to gear up for a potential go-ahead power play at the start of the third period.
Some pessimists already might've been figuring where this disappointment would rank among the first-round failures in 2004, '06 and '07, with the lockout in '05 looking like a bright spot in comparison.
But in the Dallas dressing room, everyone felt good about how they were playing and believed they could pick up where they left off. Then they did just that, killing off Morrow's penalty and another soon after, followed by a power-play goal and another about a minute later. The Stars wound up winning 5-2 and bringing home a 2-0 lead for Game 3 Tuesday night.
"I don't think that, going through that, any of us were scared or thought, 'Here we go again,"' Morrow said Monday. "I was the one sitting in the penalty box, so I was sweating it out more than anyone else; I didn't want to be the goat. But it wasn't a matter of looking around wondering, 'Who's going to get the job done?' Everyone wanted to get the job done. That's something that's been lacking, that's something that's different about this team."
Suddenly, their playoff slogan "Believe" no longer seems trite.
"Right now, we have a little different calmness to our team, a little more confidence," Morrow said.
The Stars have five chances to win two games and the series, something they haven't done since a first-rounder in 2003. They haven't won a deeper round since getting to the Stanley Cup finals in 2000, the year after they won the Cup.
Anaheim must win four of the last five games to keep alive its hopes of repeating. Of the 280 teams that have gotten behind 2-0 in a seven-game series, only 37 have won.
"Our group has been in some waters before and we've had our fair share of adversity, not only in the playoffs previously but in this regular season," Ducks coach Randy Carlyle said. "We've been able to rally around one another and get things done. Our biggest game of the year is tomorrow and we have to be prepared to play the best game we've played so far."
The two games played in Anaheim were all about special teams. The Stars scored on 6-of-13 power plays, the Ducks were 1-for-9.
"We thought we had resurrected our penalty killing from the last 25 games or so. We were above 90 per cent," Carlyle said. "It so happens in the first game they had four power play goals and we're reeling. ... We're going to make some adjustments and try some different things. I'm sure they will too. That's what the playoffs are all about."
Being the road team might actually help the Ducks - or, rather, hurt the Stars. Dallas has won only one of its last seven post-season games here; it was six straight until a Game 6 victory in the first round last year.
In last year's fizzle, the Stars went from a 12-2-2 roll to end the regular season to a 1-3 start to the playoffs. Although they forced a seventh game, they lost.
They went out in five games to Colorado in both '06 and '04. The '06 loss was especially disappointing because Dallas had come back from the lockout to win the division.
Fan interest has been declining for years, for all the obvious reasons. The way this series has started, the locals might be ready to start buying into this bunch. The way they handled the adversity in Game 2 could even turn into a defining moment of their 2008 post-season.
"It could," said Brad Richards, the post-season MVP when he led Tampa Bay to a championship in 2004. "But I'm not going to get too far ahead of myself. We're very aware of what kind of team we're playing. Talk to me about it some other day."
The Stars are pushing for a "black out" Tuesday night. They'll be giving out 15,000 black T-shirts that are blank on the front and featuring their "Believe" campaign on the back.
Goalie Marty Turco is against anything that makes the puck harder to see, but he understands the logic behind the stunt.
"It's all about camaraderie and unifying the fans with us," Turco said. "Since changing (the primary jersey colour) to black, it does seem to make sense. It should be interesting to see what it looks like."