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STANLEY CUP PLAYOFFS / 1998 PREVIEW SECTION

Western Conference Preview Capsules

April 22, 1998|Helene Elliott

NO. 1 DALLAS (49-22-11)

VS.

NO. 8 SAN JOSE (34-38-10)

* Season series: 2-2.

* Playoff schedule: Today at Dallas, 5:30 p.m.; Friday at Dallas, 5:30 p.m.; Sunday at San Jose, noon; Tuesday at San Jose, 7:30 p.m.; April 30 at Dallas, 4:30 p.m.-x; May 2 at San Jose, 6 p.m.-x; May 4 at Dallas, 4:30 p.m.-x; x-if necessary.

* Top scorers: Dallas--Joe Nieuwendyk 39-30--69. San Jose--Jeff Friesen 31-32--63.

* Team goals-against average: Dallas 2.01 (second), San Jose 2.61 (15th).

* Power play: Dallas 20% (first), San Jose 13.5% (16th).

* Penalty killing: Dallas 88% (second), San Jose 85.2% (13th).

* Keys: Logic says the Stars should romp, but there's little place for logic in the NHL. The Stars are superior, having scored 75 more goals than they gave up, but the Sharks have a 6-2 edge on them in the last two seasons and a 4-0 record at Dallas since December 1995. Mike Modano's return from a shoulder injury and the acquisition of Brian Skrudland give Dallas unmatched depth up the middle. The Nieuwendyk-Greg Adams-Pat Verbeek line scored 12 goals in the last five games, and right wing Jere Lehtinen might be the NHL's best two-way forward. The Sharks finished with a 7-2-3 push and their young players are scoring as much as the veterans. San Jose must avoid penalties but still be physical, a tough balance. Dallas in six, but the Stars will have bruises.

NO. 2 COLORADO (39-26-17)

VS.

NO. 7 EDMONTON (35-37-10)

* Season series: Colorado, 5-1.

* Playoff schedule: Today at Colorado, 6 p.m.; Friday at Colorado, 7:30 p.m.; Sunday at Edmonton, 3 p.m.; Tuesday at Edmonton, 6 p.m.; April 30 at Colorado, 6 p.m.-x; May 2 at Edmonton, 7:30 p.m.-x; May 4 at Colorado, 6 p.m.-x; x-if necessary.

* Top scorers: Colorado--Peter Forsberg 25-66--91. Edmonton--Doug Weight 26-44--70.

* Team goals-against average: Colorado 2.45 (11th), Edmonton 2.70 (16th).

* Power play: Colorado 17.4% (seventh), Edmonton 15.9% (12th).

* Penalty killing: Colorado 87.1% (third), Edmonton 83.7% (22nd).

* Keys: Whispers say Coach Marc Crawford's employment depends on how far the Avalanche goes this spring. Time to update that resume. He hasn't sorted out a slow, disorganized defense or jump-started a power play that should be more productive. Joe Sakic (27 goals, 63 points), recently back from a knee injury, will sit out the opener after being suspended by the NHL for kneeing and injuring Kris Draper of Detroit. The Oilers were 16-9 after the Olympics, including a 6-1 finish. Defenseman Janne Niinimaa was a great pickup. If Weight, Dean McAmmond (19 goals, 50 points) and Todd Marchant use their speed to challenge Colorado's defense, they can create havoc. There's an upset in the first round every season, and this one is it: Edmonton in six.

NO. 3 DETROIT (44-23-15)

VS.

NO. 6 PHOENIX (35-35-12)

* Season series: Detroit, 3-1-2.

* Playoff schedule: Today at Detroit, 4:30 p.m.; Friday at Detroit, 4:30 p.m.; Sunday at Phoenix, noon; Tuesday at Phoenix, 7:30 p.m.; April 30 at Detroit, 4:30 p.m.-x; May 2 at Phoenix, 6 p.m.-x; May 4 at Detroit, 7:30 p.m.-x; x-if necessary.

* Top scorers: Detroit--Steve Yzerman 24-45--69. Phoenix--Keith Tkachuk 40-26--66.

* Team goals-against average: Detroit 2.35 (seventh), Phoenix 2.73 (19th).

* Power play: Detroit 17.6% (sixth), Phoenix 14.8% (14th).

* Penalty killing: Detroit 86.4% (ninth), Phoenix 83.8% (21st).

* Keys: Goalie Chris Osgood, Mike Vernon's understudy in Detroit's Cup run last spring, is the team leader. How he handles that pressure will be crucial. Defensemen Larry Murphy (11 goals, 52 points) and Nicklas Lidstrom (17 goals, 59 points) give the Red Wings plenty of offensive punch. They will miss grinders Doug Brown (separated shoulder) and Kris Draper (sprained knee), but that gives Martin Lapointe a chance to step up. The Coyotes, rarely free of injuries, are at nearly full strength. Tkachuk and Jeremy Roenick (24 goals, 56 points) have the talent to win--do they have the heart? The team hasn't won a playoff series since 1986-87, when it was based in Winnipeg, and that streak will continue. Detroit in six.

NO. 4. ST. LOUIS (44-29-8)

VS.

NO. 5 KINGS (38-33-11)

* Season series: St. Louis, 3-0-1.

* Playoff schedule: Thursday at St. Louis, 4:30 p.m.; Saturday at St. Louis, 4:30 p.m.; Monday at Kings, 7:30 p.m.; April 29 at Kings, 7:30 p.m.; May 1 at St. Louis, 4:30 p.m.-x; May 3 at Kings, noon-x; May 5 at St. Louis, 4:30 p.m.-x; x-if necessary.

* Top scorers: St. Louis--Brett Hull--27-45--72. Kings--Jozef Stumpel 21-58--79.

* Team goals-against average: Blues 2.46 (12th), Kings 2.71 (17th).

* Power play: Blues 16.8% (ninth), Kings 14.2% (15th).

* Penalty killing: Blues 86.6% (seventh), Kings 84.2% (19th).

* Keys: Blues' goalie Grant Fuhr (2.53 goals-against, .898 save percentage) played two so-so games after returning from a bruised knee. He must be sharper for the Blues to win. Hull had only one goal in his last 11 games, and although he played decent defense, he must get chances and convert them. The Blues, who led the NHL in goals, have a surprising amount of speed and a solid work ethic. The Kings were flat in a 6-10 finish that exposed their lack of offensive depth after Stumpel and Glen Murray (27 goals, 60 points). Their best strategy is to use their size to wear down the Blues and create chances by winning battles in the corner and in front of the net. Goalie Stephane Fiset (2.71 goals-against, .909 save percentage) looked shaky down the stretch. St. Louis in six.

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