WEDNESDAY, APRIL 22: I've never been so down after a playoff
win. We beat the San Jose Sharks 4-1 tonight at home, in Dallas,
in the opener of our best-of-seven first-round series, but we
lost Joe Nieuwendyk, our leading scorer and a guy who takes a
lot of pressure off me. About four minutes into the game he
injured his right knee after being driven hard into the boards
by Sharks defenseman Bryan Marchment.
Why doesn't this surprise me? Marchment is an eighth-year
journeyman playing for his sixth team, and his specialty is
blowing out guys' knees. He put me on the operating table in
December with a low hit that tore ligaments in my right knee. I
missed 10 games; the league suspended him for three.
I'm sick for Joe. He was playing great and was really excited
about the postseason. As soon as I left the arena I called him
at home from my car, just to tell him, Hey, we're thinking about
THURSDAY, APRIL 23: Grim news. Joe has a torn anterior cruciate
ligament and cartilage damage. I'd be surprised to see him
return before the third round.
I've heard complaints from the Sharks that Game 1 had no flow.
Steve Walkom, the referee, called 11 minors on San Jose and nine
on us. I'm just happy to see the rules being enforced. Last
season our first-round series against the Edmonton Oilers was a
free-for-all. We lost in seven games, even though we had
finished the regular season with 104 points to their 81. To ease
the sting of that upset, I bought a puppy, a golden retriever I
named Scout. This year we won the Presidents' Trophy as the
league's best regular-season team. Losing in the first round
isn't an option. I don't have enough room in my house for
FRIDAY, APRIL 24: I wasn't around at the end of our 5-2 win. In
the second period Marchment nailed me with an elbow to the face,
but he was just softening me up for Marcus Ragnarsson, another
Sharks defenseman, who later in the period caught me in the back
of the head with his stick during a center-ice collision. I
blacked out for a bit and missed the third period with a mild
concussion. I'm woozy right now, a good 20 minutes after the
game, but it's a good woozy. We're up 2-0 in the series.
I'm told that I missed some wild action. I was icing my head
when San Jose right wing Owen Nolan ran our goaltender, Eddie
Belfour. Eddie was playing the puck behind the net, and Nolan
nailed him. It will be interesting to see if the league suspends
The Sharks took 20 penalties tonight. All but one of our goals
came on power plays. There's a lot of frustration on their side.
I think some of their players still want the league to be the
way it was in the early 1990s, when the referees put the
whistles away. But this is the way the NHL wants it, with the
emphasis on creativity and excitement.
SUNDAY, APRIL 26: We must have borrowed the Sharks' stupidity
pills. In today's Game 3 in San Jose we took 20 penalties and
Their fans rode Belfour the way ours have been riding Marchment.
After playing 13 games with the Sharks last season, Eddie signed
with us in the off-season. Apparently a lot of San Jose fans
took his departure personally. Before today's game a video clip
was shown of San Jose's mascot, Sharky, throwing a Belfour dummy
off the top of San Jose Arena. The message read, THE EAGLE HAS
Eddie, a.k.a. the Eagle, didn't appreciate that, and he's not
happy that the league didn't suspended Nolan. With the game out
of reach and a few minutes left to play, he wigged out. When
Sharks forward Shawn Burr fell into the crease, Eddie slugged
him a few times. After things settled down, Ragnarsson skated
through the crease, so Eddie kicked him and got a game
misconduct. When a reporter asked Eddie why he had kicked
Ragnarsson, the Eagle answered, "I didn't kick him, I
How do you slew-foot an opponent? Eddie didn't bother to explain
it, so I informed the reporters that slew-footing is tripping
someone by sticking your leg out and then pushing him backward
over it. In a relatively new hockey market like San Jose, I like
to do my part to educate people about the game.
When someone asked Eddie why he snapped, he said, "That wasn't
snapping. You haven't seen snapping." Scary thought.
MONDAY, APRIL 27: When I get to practice, our coach, Ken
Hitchcock, calls me into his little cubicle. Hitch thinks that
I've been trying too hard to pick up the scoring slack with Joe
out and that my defense has suffered. He wants me to get back to
the checking, two-way style that he has insisted I play since he
was hired 2 1/2 seasons ago. If I do that, he says, the scoring
will take care of itself.
After practice, while some of the guys are watching Jerry
Springer, Hitch reminds the media how "unfair" it is to expect
me to be at the top of my game, since I missed the last six
weeks of the season with a separated right shoulder. The
shoulder feels great, although I still have this weird dent
where it healed. As long as I can still swing a golf club,
though, and as long as the dent doesn't gross out my girlfriend,
Kerri Nelson, I don't care.
I appreciate that Hitch is trying to take the pressure off me,
but pressure is pretty much a constant in this profession.
Before I signed a six-year, $43.5 million deal with the Stars on
April 13, I felt pressure to earn a big contract. Now that I
have one, I feel pressure to justify it. No complaints. Most
people would love to have my problems.
TUESDAY, APRIL 28: Whoever coined the term sudden death was
right. We play our guts out for 66 1/2 minutes, and some San
Jose rookie--a 20-year-old defenseman named Andrei
Zyuzin--throws a what-the-hell shot through traffic with the
score 0-0 in overtime. The shot trickles past Eddie, and
suddenly, instead of walking away with a 3-1 series lead, we're
back where we started. Except now it's best-of-three.
The good news is that after the first 10 minutes, when the
Sharks had us on our heels, we stopped throwing the puck away
and regained our poise. We just couldn't get anything past their
goalie, Mike Vernon.
WEDNESDAY, APRIL 29: Hitch is doing some serious coaching at
30,000 feet. On the charter back to Dallas, he tells us that we
need to stop living in the past, to stop copping the woe-is-me
attitude. We need to face up to the fact that Joe is out, he
says, and make a stronger commitment to playing a full 60
minutes. Earlier today he had taken me aside and suggested I
start dealing out some big hits, instead of just taking them.
"Be the hunter, not the hunted," he said. I'll give it a shot.
THURSDAY, APRIL 30: The hunting is good on home ice. In a
30-second span in the first period, I flatten Ragnarsson and
nail Marchment with a solid check into the end boards. It gets
me into the game. I pop a couple of goals, including the
deciding one, and we win 3-2.
My first goal came with 2.4 seconds left in the first period,
when I dunked the rebound off a shot that Vernon had blocked. It
was a huge goal for the team and a big one for me, too. My only
goal of the series had been an empty-netter in Game 1. Damn
right I was relieved to see the red light go on.
I scored the game-winner with 8:52 left in the third. Darryl
Sydor, one of our defensemen, had been pinched deep into their
zone, and he backhanded a pass toward the goal that I knocked
in. The Sharks went bananas because Jamie Langenbrunner, my
linemate, had a skate in the crease when I scored. After the
game a San Jose reporter asked me if I thought the goal should
have been reviewed. "I wasn't running over to tell them to check
it," I said.
One of the biggest challenges of playoff hockey is trying to
beat the same guys, night in, night out. You think it's fun
going up against a hair farmer like Mike Ricci night after
night? The Sharks know us, and we know them. We know we're not
going to solve Vernon with slap shots from the perimeter, which
is pretty much where I spent Games 3 and 4. Tonight I unloaded
on a few guys, mixed it up inside, and it worked. We're one
victory away from advancing to the second round. "Whatever
you're doing, keep that s--- up," a Dallas columnist said to me.
Later I'm in a tunnel at Reunion Arena, talking to reporters
while I wait to do a live shot for TV. I'm starving and standing
in my socks on wet concrete until Larry Kelly, our thoughtful
media relations director, walks up and hands me a pair of
sandals. "Don't put that in your diary," Larry says of this act
of servility. "I'll never live it down."
Sure you will, Larry.
FRIDAY, MAY 1: Disturbing revelation in today's newspaper: The
producers of Jerry Springer have announced they intend to
eliminate brawling from the show. Trust me: That won't improve
its ratings among the Dallas Stars.
Some in the media are calling last night's game the most
important of my career. I don't know. Scoring a hat trick in my
first game with the Prince Albert Raiders, when I was 15, seemed
pretty important at the time. This time of year, it seems, your
most important game is your next one.
SATURDAY, MAY 2: Our general manager, Bob Gainey, is looking
pretty smart in the wake of our series-clinching 3-2 overtime
victory. He had increased our team's grit quotient significantly
in March by trading for New York Rangers Mike Keane and Brian
Skrudland. Keane scored two goals in tonight's 3-2 overtime win,
and Skrudland had an assist. Thank god we won't have to play a
Afterward, as the teams filed past one another, I didn't think
twice before shaking Marchment's hand. Joe isn't in San Jose
tonight, but I'm sure he'd agree with me: Advancing is the best
give it a shot.
it to reporters.