Tag Archive for Reunion Arena

The 1998 Playoffs – Conference Quarter-finals

by Matt Day
This is Part 1 of a three part series about the 1998 Playoffs and “The Best Game I Ever Missed”. Watch for Parts 2 to come on April 9th and 12th, 2013.

 

1998 Stanley Cup Playoffs - Photo Credit SportsLogos.net

1998 Stanley Cup Playoffs – Photo Credit SportsLogos.net

After finishing second in points in 1997 the Stars were upset in the first round by the Edmonton Oilers. Determined not to let this happen again the Stars made big news signing free agent Ed Belfour in the offseason. Struggling early in the season with his new defense Belfour finally got into the groove and lead the team to its first President’s trophy and the team’s best record ever, to that point. The playoffs were here again and first on his plate was Eddie’s last team, the San Jose Sharks.

The San Jose Sharks went all out at the trade deadline in 1997 to get Belfour from the Blackhawks in hopes they could work out a deal to resign him. It did not work out and this was their chance for payback with their new goaltender and playoff MVP from last season, Mike Vernon. The payback however did not involve the men between the pipes.

The last season had taught me that with all the excitement that went with playoff hockey also came moments of extreme bitterness. The previous year was my first as a season ticket holder and being upset in the first round had taught me such bitterness. I was 0-4 in playoff games because all four losses in that series were at home. I was eager to end that streak and to taste playoff victory for the first time.

I did not take long for this series to get ugly. Bryan Marchment of the Sharks, who was known for his cheap shots on the other teams key players went to work and may have prevented the Stars from skating the Cup a year early. Marchment took out Joe Nieuwendyk’s right knee and forcing him out of the game. This was only game one of the playoffs and even though the Stars dominated the game in a 4-1 win the victory was bitter-sweet. All my thoughts were on if and when Joe could return. Nieuwendyk was the Stars leading scorer for the season and a huge loss for the team.  Our worries were confirmed when we learned that he had suffered a torn ACL and would be out for the season. The Stars went on to dominate game two as well and you couldn’t help but think this series was over. Someone forgot to inform the Sharks of that though as they took the next two in San Jose to tie the series.

Game five in Dallas again was a nail bitter as the Stars escaped a close one with a 3-2 win. I was living and dying with every shift. Every goal for or against was leaving me on emotional highs or lows. Game six was in San Jose and we really needed to end it there because I was not ready for another game seven. It was another close one and when San Jose forced overtime I could only think, “Oh no, here we go again!” I would have been devastated had the Sharks scored and sent us to another game 7 in Dallas. Another chance to watch my team exit early in round one again would have been too much to bear. Trade deadline acquisition Mike Keane eliminated my fears and the Sharks with his overtime game winner. Injuries to Nieuwendyk and Jere Lehtinen crippled the Stars, but it did not keep them from winning the series in 6.

The Sharks provided a few firsts for me in hockey. My first ever Stars game I went to was a victory against the Sharks in 1995. My first playoff win and series win as a season ticket holder came this series as well as one more first. A tradition was born that series. To celebrate the playoffs my cousin and I wanted to try something different. We noticed a booth outside Reunion Arena that offered free face painting and so both of us had our faces painted all three games of the series. It was fun and we didn’t really think anything of it until a fellow season ticket holder informed us of an interesting coincidence. Having already painted up our superstitious friend had thanked us and pointed out that our personal records were 0-4 without face paint and the Stars were 3-0 when we dawned the war paint. Round one was tough but over it was now time for some revenge in round two.

The First Stars Loss That Really Stung [April 29, 1997]

by Devin Pike

Even in the age of satellite TV and “87 channels and nothing on,” it was still possible in 1997 to have what traditionalists (or old fogeys) call “a pure sports experience” with nothing but a radio and an empty room. Well, empty save the radio, several lightboards, and me.

I was working second shift at a prepress company in Arlington, which meant I couldn’t go to many Stars games during the week. Which meant that the relatively-new broadcast duo of Ralph Strangis and Daryl Reaugh were my companions while I tried to suss out people’s font issues, screwed-up layouts, and kerning problems.

The 1996-97 Stars were really starting to click. Andy Moog was a solid backstop, Mike Modano was showing flashes of greatness, and Derian Hatcher was everything you wanted a team Captain to be. We had just added Sergei Zubov and Darryl Sydor, both defensive beasts. The team had racked up a great season, and won their first division title in over ten years. No reason to think we wouldn’t have a long playoff run… until we drew Edmonton in the first round.

What followed were seven games of playoff hockey that were as thrilling as anything I had seen as a fan. The last playoff series I remember being that vested in was when I was living in St. Louis, cheering for the Blues against the Maple Leafs in the 1994 Western Conference Semis. That was a goaliefest as well, with Curtis Joseph and Felix Potvin in opposing pipes.

With the Stars / Oilers, I would be rooting against CuJo this time. And I knew what the man was capable of: standing on his head with the best of ’em.

By the time the two teams had forced a Game 7 in the Western Conference Quarters, we had two overtime games already, with Game 5 at Reunion going to double OT. That’s why Game 7 winding up with a 3-3 tie didn’t surprise me one bit, and you could hear Ralphie almost giggle as the horn blew, and he went to break with “Well, folks, here we go again.”

In the end, that first overtime was enough. Grant Ledyard tripped on a bad patch of Reunion ice (not an uncommon occurrence, especially in late April) which allowed Todd Marchant (hard to not type “That Bastard Todd Marchant” – oh, I guess I just did) to break open and sneak one past Moog. I sat there, stunned.

I think it jolted the fans in the barn as well. Stunned silence doesn’t always come across on a radio broadcast, but there was almost no sound behind Ralph and Razor for a few moments as they gamely broke down the defensive breakdown.

Obviously, there would be better days as a Stars fan coming. You’ll see a lot of those in this column, I’d wager. But that loss, in some weird way, is the most memorable game for me. That was when I realized I was on the bandwagon to stay. A Fanatic. It’s easy to be a fan and wear the sweater when you have a load of Stanley Cups under your belt. The bigger measure is when you start to sniff success and have it whisked away from you.

That should be when you want it more.

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