Originally created 05/23/00

Momentum elusive for Stars, Avalanche

DALLAS -- Momentum has been a slippery thing for the Dallas Stars and Colorado Avalanche. Just when one team seems to grab control of the Western Conference finals, the other teams slides ahead.

Each team has two wins as the best-of-seven series heads into Game 5 tonight.

The Avalanche put themselves in position to break things open by getting shutouts from goalie Patrick Roy in Games 1 and 3. If the shutouts didn't deflate Dallas, they at least had to boost Colorado's confidence.

But the Stars have found that when they score, they win. Their 4-1 victory in Game 4 Sunday not only kept the Avalanche from dominating, but it also regained Dallas' home-ice advantage.

"There's a lot more at stake than just winning hockey games right now," Stars coach Ken Hitchcock said. "When you have that, you see people doing extraordinary things, and you've seen that in this series.

"You've seen goaltenders stand on their head, you've seen people who don't play physical make five and six hits a night, you've seen exceptional second- and third-effort goals."

A gritty, tight series is exactly what was expected after the teams went seven games in last year's conference finals. Another seven-game series seems likely the way things keep balancing out.

Injuries kept Avalanche defensemen Ray Bourque out of the first two games, then Adam Foote out of the third. That top tandem was reunited Sunday, but Colorado gave up more goals in three periods than in the previous three games.

Dallas went to Denver so sure rookie Brenden Morrow wouldn't play that his equipment was left at home. But he said his broken right ankle felt better and he ended up playing Sunday.

Each team has a high-scoring center just waiting to break out. Dallas' Mike Modano didn't take a shot in Denver, and Colorado's Joe Sakic has one goal in the last 11 games and two in 14.

The Avalanche's power play has been held to three goals in 24 chances, although the Stars' penalty killing unit -- the best in the league this season -- deserves some credit. Dallas also has three power-play goals, but on nine fewer chances.

"Our power play is not clicking, but we have the talent," Colorado coach Bob Hartley said. "One power-play goal could be the click that we need."

Roy's two shutouts are impressive, but the 79 shots Dallas' Ed Belfour has stopped over the past two games is pretty inspiring, too.

"It really settles us down, gives us great confidence knowing he's making those great saves," Modano said. "He seems to get stronger as games go on. Even in the games we've lost, he's still given us a chance right up til the end to get back into the game."

Roy's rocky Game 4 has drawn more grief than the glory of the two shutouts. Both sides expect him to be refocused tonight.

"Patrick is a fighter," Hartley said. "Just like when you take a good punch on the nose in Grade 6, you want to go back at those guys."

All the Avs must feel like they've taken a bit of a jolt. They went into Sunday's game knowing that if they remained perfect at home, they'd take a 3-1 lead to Dallas. They outshot the Stars 39-15, but still lost.

"It's too bad," Roy said, "because we thought we had them right where we wanted."

The slushy ice of Reunion will be welcome footing for the Stars. And it will be slushier than ever as temperatures consistently in the 90s making it tough to keep the surface frigid.

"I think we play our building better than any team in the league," Hitchcock said. "That includes our fans, the way we play the glass, the way we play the boards, and it includes the way we play our system in our building. We're going to have to be great there if we expect to win Game 5."


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