DALLAS -- If Thursday night was indeed Mike Modano's final home game, it ended in emotional and fitting fashion.
Outside of skating off with another Stanley Cup, it's difficult to imagine a better way to go out than Modano's performance in a 3-2 shootout win over Anaheim.
The crescendo of energy started in earnest with about five minutes left in the third period. Modano had managed to fight off his emotions all game long as the video board at American Airlines Center flashed images of his long and storied career -- all the big goals, record-breaking assists and the hoisting of the 1999 Stanley Cup.
But when Modano saw himself thank the fans for "17 memorable years in Dallas" in a pre-taped message late in the final period, he lost it. The camera stayed on him as he sat on the bench, wiping away tears, while the 18,009 -- that number clearly wasn't a coincidence -- stood and roared. Many of them wore No. 9 jerseys and snapped photos with their cell phones. Some cried right along with Modano.
"I think as the night went on it built and as the day progressed, it was getting tougher just to realize that could have been it," Modano said. "The fans were fantastic. It's been a great relationship I've had with them. I can't say enough about them. I didn't expect the reception and the ovations throughout the night like that."
A few minutes after the emotional ovation, a composed Modano deftly deflected a point shot from Trevor Daley to tie the score with 1:47 left. The building erupted and Modano enjoyed the moment, celebrating with his teammates and saluting the crowd. Modano's stick was close to being above crossbar, so the goal was reviewed. But there wasn't any way the league was going to overturn that goal.
"I think they maybe threw me a farewell bone there," Modano said.
That wasn't all for No. 9, though. The game, as it should have, went into a shootout. And out popped Modano, streaking down the ice with that trademark flowing sweater, and scoring top shelf with a nifty move. Modano skated toward the Stars bench and flung his stick into the seats in celebration. His smile was wide as he laughed.
"I didn't have any idea what to expect or how it was going to play out," Modano said. "It was a nice way to possibly end it."
Modano was reflective as he sat in the interview room deep in the bowels of AAC late Thursday night. At times, he seemed almost ready to say goodbye and skate off into the next phase of his life. And then other times, he acted like a guy ready to return. He said he didn't want his parents in Dallas on Thursday because if they weren't there, maybe that meant he had more games to play.
"It certainly felt like the end, but I might come down with Favre-itis," he said.
That's vintage Modano. He said he sat on the bench and was flooded with thoughts about arriving in Dallas in 1993 to find a city that wasn't sure exactly what hockey was all about. He remembered getting off the plane in May 1993 and seeing the rink in Valley Ranch.
"I knew we had a lot of work to do," Modano said. "I've always said Reunion Arena when it was playoff time was one of the top five buildings I ever played in."
Modano said he never thought the growth of hockey in North Texas could get to the level it has, with minor league teams in various parts of the Dallas area and throughout the state and youth hockey that now has over 8,000 participants. Players who developed their games in Texas are now getting drafted by NHL teams.
"Being young and growing with the fans meant more to me than anything, and my longevity here with one team," Modano said. "It's been a blur. I can't believe we're here at this moment and how fast it's gone."
After Jere Lehtinen scored to end the shootout and give the Stars the victory, Modano skated around the ice and waved to the crowd. Then he looked like the groom at his wedding reception as his teammates pulled him in every direction, asking to take their pictures with him. Some of them, like Steve Ott and Stephane Robidas, grabbed their kids and had them take photos for family scrapbooks.
As part of the final home game festivities, a handful of fans that donated money to the Dallas Stars Foundation literally got the jerseys off the back of Stars players. Robert Black, a 60-year-old in the oil and gas business, had the winning bid for Modano's jersey. It just took a while for Modano to finally skate off the ice and hand it to him.
"It was tough to leave the ice there, not knowing what the future holds and if that was it or if it wasn't," Modano said. "You have a night like that and you think this could keep going. You finally score on your first shootout of the year -- I don't know if there was fate there. When you have nights like that, it makes you ponder that decision a little longer."
Modano knows another emotional game awaits him Saturday in Minnesota as the Stars finish the season in the city where it all started for him as the first overall draft pick in 1988. His parents won't be there. But they've made it known that they want to see their 39-year-old son play another season.
"They don't think I'm done," Modano said. "My dad doesn't think I'm done. He thinks I'm crazy if I'm done. I'm sure he'd be the first guy I'd listen to if he says, 'Mike, it's time.' But he's not there yet."
It didn't seem like the fans at AAC on Thursday were there yet, either.