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Eastern Conference Capsules

April 21, 1999|HELENE ELLIOTT

NO. 1 NEW JERSEY (47-24-11) vs. NO. 8 PITTSBURGH (38-30-14)

* Season series: New Jersey 4-1.

* Top scorers: New Jersey--Petr Sykora 29-43--72. Pittsburgh--Jaromir Jagr 44-83--127.

* Team goals-against average: New Jersey 2.36 (seventh). Pittsburgh 2.69 (17th).

* Power play: New Jersey 19.7% (fourth). Pittsburgh 17.9% (seventh).

* Penalty killing: New Jersey 85.5% (11th). Pittsburgh 81.5% (23rd).

* Keys for Devils: Given some offensive freedom by Coach Robbie Ftorek, the Devils scored 248 goals, second to Toronto, and sacrificed little defensively. Thirteen players reached double figures in goals, tops in the NHL. Sykora fit nicely into the first-line center role vacated by Doug Gilmour, and Bobby Holik (27 goals, 64 points) is a strong second-line center.

* Keys for Penguins: They ended the season with a 2-8-2 slide and some shaky defensive efforts. However, Jagr, the gifted but erratic Alexei Kovalev (23 goals, 53 points) and Martin Straka (35 goals, 83 points) can be game-breakers. Goalie Tom Barrasso, recently returned from a broken hand, has been bothered by a bad back.

* Prediction: New Jersey in six.

NO. 2 OTTAWA (44-23-15) vs. NO. 7 BUFFALO (37-28-17)

* Season series: Ottawa 1-0-4.

* Top scorers: Ottawa--Alexei Yashin 44-50--94. Buffalo--Miroslav Satan 40-26--66.

* Team goals-against average: Ottawa 2.15 (third). Buffalo 2.09 (second).

* Power play: Ottawa 14.9% (15th). Buffalo 13.5% (21st).

* Penalty killing: Ottawa 86.1% (eighth). Buffalo 86.2% (seventh).

* Keys for Buffalo: Every meeting of these teams went to overtime and the highest combined score was five goals, so a low-scoring, tight-checking, rugged series is a good bet.

* Keys for Ottawa: Ottawa's Ron Tugnutt and Buffalo's two-time NHL most valuable player Dominik Hasek finished 1-2 in goals-against average, at 1.79 and 1.90, respectively, but Hasek's league-leading .936 save percentage edged Tugnutt's third-place mark of .925. It's tough to pick against Hasek, but the Senators have more scoring potential and disruptive speed up front. The Sabres may try to lure the Senators into rough stuff, which the Senators must avoid.

* Prediction: Ottawa in seven.

NO. 3 CAROLINA (34-30-18) vs. NO. 6 BOSTON (39-30-13)

* Season series: 2-2-1.

* Top scorers: Carolina--Keith Primeau 30-32--62. Boston--Jason Allison 23-53--76.

* Team goals-against average: Carolina 2.41 (ninth). Boston 2.17 (fourth).

* Power play: Carolina 11.0% (27th). Boston 17.7% (eighth).

* Penalty killing: Carolina 85.3% (12th). Boston 89.8% (first).

* Keys for Carolina: The winners of the weak Southeast division had a point total that ranked only eighth. Center Ron Francis, signed as a free agent, had a slow start but scored 13 of his 21 goals in the last two months. Defenseman Paul Coffey, a defensive liability, didn't help the NHL's worst power play. Goalie Arturs Irbe (2.22 goals-against, .923 save percentage) had a surprisingly good season.

* Keys for Boston: Coach Pat Burns handled the Bruins masterfully, bringing 1997 top draft pick Joe Thornton along slowly but surely. Thornton had 16 goals and 41 points and was a force in the second half. This is a speedy, resourceful young team that could go a few rounds.

* Prediction: Boston in five.

NO. 4 TORONTO (45-30-7) vs. NO. 5 PHILADELPHIA (37-26-19)

* Season series: Philadelphia 3-1.

* Top scorers: Toronto--Mats Sundin 31-52--83. Philadelphia--Eric Lindros 40-53--93.

* Team goals-against average: Toronto 2.79 (21st). Philadelphia 2.34 (sixth).

* Power play: Toronto 14.4% (17th). Philadelphia 16.9% (10th).

* Penalty killing: Toronto 80.3% (24th). Philadelphia 84.1% (16th).

* Keys for Toronto: The Maple Leafs romped through their first season in the East and led the NHL with 268 goals, but they will have some trouble with the bigger, stronger Flyers. After Sundin, the Leafs are small and unimpressive up the middle, but they have scoring power on the left side in Steve Thomas (28 goals) and Sergei Berezin (37 goals).

* Keys for Philadelphia: The Flyers will be without Lindros, recovering from a collapsed lung. Left wing John LeClair and defenseman Eric Desjardins are fighting back and knee problems, respectively. Goaltending may again be their undoing. The team's .896 save percentage reflects the tendency of John Vanbiesbrouck and Ron Hextall to give up soft goals.

* Prediction: Toronto in six.

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