Super Stars

ERIC FRANCIS -- Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 4:57 PM ET


 Sometime over the course of the next few weeks, the real Mike Modano will show up.

 And when he does, the Dallas Stars will march to their second Stanley Cup in five years.

 Rebounding from a horrid start, which prompted owner Tom Hicks to suggest his club had less than a month to pull it together or massive changes would be made, the Stars pieced together a brilliant second half in which the club clawed back to finish tied for second in wins in the west.

 They did it with goaltending, they did it with balance and, surprisingly, they did it without Modano.

 Understandably distracted by a massive investment that went sour, the Stars captain had the worst season of his career, scoring just 14 times in 75 outings and finishing fifth in team scoring. What's more, the club's first-line centre was a team-worst minus-21 on a team that has been long built around a defence-first system.

 Luckily, the backbone of the Stars, Marty Turco, was able to buoy the club through rough waters early on, compiling stats that will once again land him Vezina consideration. Second only to Martin Brodeur as the league's steadiest goalie the last three years, Turco provides the type of goaltending needed to succeed in April and beyond. That won't change.

 No other team in the west has a netminder as proven as Turco.

 The biggest surprise of the year was the leadership provided by big Jason Arnott, who gave the club a go-to centre while Modano struggled to find his way.

 Arnott often found himself alongside Bill Guerin, who continues to be one of the league's steadiest scorers, racking up 33 goals and 66 points in an off year.

 Feisty, young Brenden Morrow adds the type of grit mandatory for the playoffs, not to mention a goal-scoring ability that netted him 25 this year.

 A good portion of Modano's struggles revolved around the team's inability to replace his longtime winger Jere Lehtinen, who missed 25 games due to injury. Without the perennial Selke Trophy candidate by his side, Modano was forced to spend more time in his own zone and found himself playing alongside Rob DiMaio for a spell. Lehtinen is back now, which should help Modano return to being the perennial playoff leader he's known to be.

 The much-maligned Pierre Turgeon has shocked many by playing admirably in a third-line role, often teaming up with veterans such as Stu Barnes and Shayne Corson to agitate opponents in a checking role.

 The pillars of the Stars have long been found on the blueline where Sergei Zubov, Phillipe Boucher, Richard Matvichuk and Teppo Numminen all pose as offensive threats while anchoring a team that finished second only to New Jersey in goals allowed.

 One little problem with my theory is the Stars open the playoffs against Colorado, my second choice to win the Cup.

 But it's those gutsy wins in the first round that often propel teams deep into the playoffs.


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