Valuable rookie out for season

Monday, May 15th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

By Bill Nichols / The Dallas Morning News

The Stars over the past two seasons have been a resilient team that comes back strong after poor performances. They seem to play their best in adverse situations.

Game 2 of the Western Conference finals will test that trend. After Saturday's 2-0 loss to Colorado at home, the Stars must rebound without top-line left wing Brenden Morrow.

Morrow will be out for the series because of a fractured right ankle suffered late in the third period of the series opener. He got tangled along the boards with Colorado wing Dave Andreychuk. Morrow will have more examinations Monday or Tuesday to determine if surgery is needed.

"Since it happened, I haven't gotten any good news," said Morrow, who originally believed the injury was a bad sprain. "I'm kind of waiting for something good to come out of it."

Although overcoming losses to key players is nothing new to a Dallas team that lost 396 man-games to injuries, replacing Morrow's aggressive play compounds an already difficult scenario for the Stars.

They have lost home-ice advantage and must win Game 2 to avoid spending a three-day break contemplating a 2-0 deficit with the next two games in Denver. Coach Ken Hitchcock said before the series that the extended break would only hurt if a team was in a deep hole.

The last time Dallas lost two straight in a series was Games 4 and 5 in last season's conference finals against the Avalanche. The Stars came back to win Games 6 and 7. They also lost two straight in last season's conference semifinals against St. Louis.

But the last time the Stars opened a playoff series with two straight losses was against Detroit in the 1995 conference quarterfinals, which the Red Wings won, 4-1. And the last time they opened with two straight playoff losses at home was in the 1994 conference semifinals against Vancouver, which the Canucks won, 4-1.

The Stars, however, have won seven straight Game 2s.

"Game 2 has always for me been a pivotal game for the home team," Hitchcock said. "It's probably more magnified now because we lost [Game 1]. But we've been here before. This stuff's happened to us, and we know the right way to respond."

Morrow's injury probably will bring Jere Lehtinen, who started Saturday on a line with Guy Carbonneau and Mike Keane, up to the top line with Mike Modano and Brett Hull. Blake Sloan probably will rejoin Carbonneau and Keane on the third line. Grant Marshall or Roman Lyashenko probably will play with left wing Kirk Muller and center Aaron Gavey on the fourth line.

Lehtinen spent last season and this season - until he broke his ankle - with Modano and Hull. Lehtinen, who played only 17 regular-season games, made his first playoff start Saturday. He skated 20 shifts totaling 13 minutes, 14 seconds. Not only did Lehtinen play well, but he came through without any complications, Hitchcock said.

It seems fitting that after anguishing so long over Lehtinen's slow-to-heal ankle that the Stars would lose his replacement to a broken ankle in his first game back.

"We just have to do what we did all year," Carbonneau said. "Just put somebody at his spot, and hopefully that guy will play well. It's something that we're used to."

Morrow, a rookie who made his NHL debut Nov. 18, had a dramatic impact while filling in for injured players. He had 14 goals in the regular season and two goals among six points in the playoffs. His strong play in the corners, along the boards and in front of the net typifies the style Dallas needs to get back into this series.

"The way he plays is something this team really needed," captain Derian Hatcher said.

The Avalanche, playing without injured defenseman Ray Bourque, outplayed the Stars at their own physical game.

"I don't think it's a matter of what they did," Hatcher said. "I think it's a matter of what we didn't do. We didn't do a lot. In the first two rounds, we got away with playing 40 minutes. We can't keep doing that - playing 30 to 40 minutes and expect to win. We have to push ourselves."

The Stars have been good at not letting stretches of poor play linger. Despite all their injuries, they had only one three-game losing streak all season, which was their longest. Last season, they never lost more than two straight games.

"We have to come out with a lot more energy," defenseman Darryl Sydor said. "You can't bank on what we've done in the past. We still have to go out and get the job done. We've been faced with this situation before, so we know what to expect."

Staff Writer Gerry Fraley contributed to this report.