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STANLEY CUP PLAYOFFS / 1998 PREVIEW SECTION

Eastern Conference Preview Capsules

April 22, 1998|Helene Elliott

NO. 1 NEW JERSEY (48-23-11)

VS.

NO. 8 OTTAWA (34-33-15)

* Season series: 2-2.

* Playoff schedule: Today at New Jersey, 4:30 p.m.; Friday at New Jersey, 4:30 p.m.; Sunday at Ottawa, 11 a.m.; Tuesday at Ottawa, 4:30 p.m.; April 30 at New Jersey, 4:30 p.m.-x; May 2 at Ottawa, 4:30 p.m.-x; May 4 at New Jersey, 4:30 p.m.-x; x-if necessary.

* Top scorers: New Jersey--Bobby Holik 29-26--65. Ottawa--Alexei Yashin--33-39--72.

* Team goals-against average: New Jersey 2.00 (first), Ottawa 2.40 (ninth).

* Power play: New Jersey 18.9% (second), Ottawa 12.8% (22nd).

* Penalty killing: New Jersey 86.7% (fourth), Ottawa 84.5% (17th).

* Keys: The Devils' offense wasn't clicking in the final month, but center Doug Gilmour's return from knee surgery should provide a lift. Martin Brodeur (1.89 goals-against and a league-high 43 wins) and a superb defensive unit led by Scott Stevens and Scott Niedermayer give them a decided edge. The Senators finished above .500 for the first time in their six-season history, largely because of the emergence of Yashin as an elite center. They have some skill in right wing Daniel Alfredsson (17 goals, 44 points) and Shawn McEachern (22 goals, 46 points), but goalie Damian Rhodes (2.34 goals-against, .907 save percentage) is erratic. New Jersey in five.

NO. 2 PITTSBURGH (40-24-18)

VS.

NO. 7 MONTREAL (37-32-13)

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

* Playoff schedule: Thursday at Pittsburgh, 4:30 p.m.; Saturday at Pittsburgh, 4:30 p.m.; Monday at Montreal, 4:30 p.m.; April 29 at Montreal, 4:30 p.m.; May 1 at Pittsburgh, 4:30 p.m.-x; May 3 at Montreal, 4:30 p.m.-x; May 5 at Pittsburgh, 4:30 p.m.-x; x-if necessary.

* Top scorers: Pittsburgh--Jaromir Jagr 35-67--102. Montreal--Mark Recchi 32-42--74.

* Team goals-against average: Pittsburgh 2.25 (fourth), Montreal 2.49 (13th).

* Power play: Pittsburgh 16.5% (11th), Montreal 18.3% (third).

* Penalty killing: Pittsburgh 86.4% (eighth), Montreal 84.5% (16th).

* Keys: Tom Barrasso (2.07 goals-against, .922 save percentage) and a commitment to defense carried the Penguins to the Northeast Division title. Their new style is well-suited to the playoffs, when checking gets tight, and the scoring skills of Jagr, Ron Francis (25 goals, 87 points) and defenseman Kevin Hatcher (19 goals, 48 points) provide an additional threat. Their defense is better than most and is well-balanced. Montreal center Saku Koivu (broken hand) is doubtful for the opener, depleting an already thin offense. Defenseman Patrice Brisebois (sprained knee) is questionable, and first-year Coach Alain Vigneault hasn't chosen his starting goalie. It won't matter because the Penguins are too strong in every area. Pittsburgh in five.

NO. 3 PHILADELPHIA (42-29-11)

VS.

NO. 6 BUFFALO (36-29-17)

* Season series: Philadelphia, 2-1-1.

* Playoff schedule: Today at Philadelphia, 4:30 p.m.; Friday at Philadelphia, 4:30 p.m.; Monday at Buffalo, 4:30 p.m.; April 29 at Buffalo, 4:30 p.m.; May 1 at Philadelphia, 4:30 p.m.-x; May 3 at Buffalo, 11 a.m.-x; May 5 at Philadelphia, 4:30 p.m.-x; x-if necessary.

* Top scorers: Philadelphia--John LeClair 51-36--87. Buffalo--Miroslav Satan 22-24--46.

* Team goals-against average: Philadelphia 2.32 (fifth), Buffalo 2.24 (third).

* Power play: Philadelphia 17.8% (fourth), Buffalo 12.9% (19th).

* Penalty killing: Philadelphia 86.6% (fifth), Buffalo 84.3% (18th).

* Keys: Goaltending and goaltending. Oh, and goaltending. Buffalo has the NHL's best goalie in Dominik Hasek (2.09 goals-against, .932 save percentage) but little offense; Philadelphia has big, productive forwards in LeClair, Eric Lindros (30 goals, 71 points) and Rod Brind'Amour (36 goals, 74 points) but is porous in net. Coach Roger Neilson will start Sean Burke, who hasn't been in a playoff game since 1990 and hasn't won one since 1988. Bad omens, eh? Buffalo has speed up front in Satan and right wing Donald Audette (23 goals, 43 points), a decent defense led by Alex Zhitnik, and an army of grinders. Hasek is their ace, and the Flyers aren't playing with a full deck. Buffalo in six.

NO. 4 WASHINGTON (40-30-12)

VS.

NO. 5 BOSTON (39-30-13)

* Season series: Boston, 2-1-1.

* Playoff schedule: Today at Washington, 4 p.m.; Friday at Washington, 4 p.m.; Sunday at Boston, 11 a.m.; Tuesday at Boston, 4:30 p.m.; May 1 at Washington, 4:30 p.m.-x; May 3 at Boston, 11 a.m.-x; May 5 at Washington, 4:30 p.m.-x; x-if necessary.

* Top scorers: Washington--Peter Bondra 52-26--78. Boston--Jason Allison 33-50--83.

* Team goals-against average: Washington 2.43 (11th), Boston 2.33 (sixth).

* Power play: Washington 15.7% (13th), Boston 17.3% (eighth).

* Penalty killing: Washington 89.2% (first), Boston 84.6% (15th).

* Keys: Both teams missed the playoffs last year but rebounded under new coaches, Ron Wilson of Washington and Pat Burns of Boston. Both made big improvements defensively and got career seasons from their goaltenders--for Washington, Olaf Kolzig (2.20 goals-against, .920 save percentage) and for Boston, Byron Dafoe (2.24 goals-against, .914 save percentage). Washington had the NHL's best penalty killing but the Bruins had a better power play. The Capitals' edge is Bondra's quickness and game-breaking potential and the playmaking of Adam Oates (18 goals, 76 points). Washington in seven.

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