BLOOMINGTON, Minn. -- It's almost time to believe in fairy tales -- you know, the kind that have happy endings. The Minnesota North Stars have reached the halfway mark to winning the Stanley Cup.
Sure, once upon a time this was a team that couldn't win for losing, a team that couldn't attract any interest.
Today the North Stars seem ready to take two more giant steps to an impossible dream. Not that the Stanley Cup is etched in ice sculpture yet. But all the world loves the underdog and the North Stars are the underdog of all-time. Destiny seems to be beckoning to this team and it is answering the call.
Last night Minnesota goalie Jon Casey played his team through a rather nervous first period. They then scored two quick goals in the second period, answered a Pittsburgh goal with another quickie in the third, and took a 3-1 decision from the Mario Lemieux-less Penguins to grab a 2-1 lead in the best-of-seven series.
"The playoffs are all about big games," said Bobby Smith, who scored the North Stars' second goal. "We have to like our position -- with a chance to go 3-1 at home."
Lemieux was a scratch when he suffered back spasms while taking off his skates after a warmup.
Lemieux's problems had nothing to do with his operation or subsequent infection. "It could happen to you. It could happen to me," said Pittsburgh coach Bob Johnson. "Obviously we'd love to have had him in the lineup."
The Penguins knew how to react, however, because Lemieux missed the first 50 games of the season and the last two periods of Game 7 in the opening series against New Jersey.
Minnesota didn't know how to react, Smith said. "We spent so much time preparing for him," he said. "We expected them to play hard without him and they didn't disappoint us."