If you drive near the American Airlines Center you can't miss the giant banners featuring the Dallas Stars' Stanley Cup quest and starMike Modano
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. But if you subscribe to Dish Network, you will miss the NHL's Western Conference Finals, likely a showdown between your Stars and the rival Detroit Red Wings. In case you failed to notice, hockey returned this season after a skipping a year in labor dispute. Attendance and scoring were up, and the Stars set a franchise record with 53 wins. Now that it's finally playoff time, a lot of us very casual fans will tune back in. Or at least try.
The league's new TV contract provides games on NBC and the obscure cable network OLN. Regular-season games on OLN, which made its small name covering Lance Armstrong's Tours de France, drew a microscopic 0.2 rating, with NBC not much better at a 1.0. The contract, however, also calls for OLN to have exclusive rights to the conference finals, which is terrible news for subscribers to Dish Network, which doesn't supply the channel.
First things first. The Stars have to get past the Colorado Avalanche, the team that eliminated them from their last playoff series on April 18, 2004. Goalie Marty Turco has the bulk of the pressure. He's been the NHL's best goalie during the last three regular seasons, but in the last two playoffs he's a pathetic 7-11. The Stars must also find a way to win without the shootout. Using the one-on-one overtime gimmick during the season, the Stars were an amazing 12-1, by far best in the league. In the playoffs, however, overtime games will be decided by traditional, pain-staking sudden-death goals.
Game 1 is Saturday at 2 p.m. on NBC, and Game 2 airs Monday night at 8 on KDFI-Channel 27. Watch while you can. --Richie Whitt