The better Patrick Roy played, the smaller Colorado's net looked to the Detroit Red Wings. By the time the Avalanche won the teams' Western Conference semifinal, Roy loomed 7 feet tall and the net was the size of a postage stamp.
A confident goalie can put opponents at a big psychological disadvantage. And just as the Dallas Stars must remind themselves Roy isn't invincible when they open the West finals today at Dallas, the Toronto Maple Leafs are trying to forget Buffalo goalie Dominik Hasek has won two consecutive MVP awards and has led the Sabres to the Eastern Conference finals two years in a row.
"A lot of times, when you face a player of Hasek's caliber, players look for the perfect shot," said Toronto center Mats Sundin, whose team will host the Sabres Sunday at the Air Canada Centre. "We play against a goaltender every day in practice who's very good--Curtis Joseph--and we know we have to put a lot of pucks at him. The goals you score will dribble in or deflect in.
"The way to go at Hasek is to make sure you get a lot of shots and have a lot of traffic. The pucks he can't see, you hope that he can't stop."
Buffalo center Michael Peca said his team has a high regard for Joseph. "Second efforts are how we're going to get our goals against that guy," said Peca, who leads the Sabres with four goals and 11 points in the playoffs.
The goaltending matchups may highlight each series, but there are many other fascinating elements.
The first playoff meeting of Dallas and Colorado involves two transplants: the Stars were the Minnesota North Stars until 1993, and the Avalanche was the Quebec Nordiques until 1995. With 118 points, Dallas had the NHL's best record, 16 points more than Colorado, which was seeded second in the West. Both have superb first- and second-line centers, Dallas in Mike Modano and Joe Nieuwendyk and Colorado in Joe Sakic and Peter Forsberg. Dallas is 5-0 at home in the playoffs, and Colorado is 6-0 on the road.
Roy has a 2.36 goals-against average and .929 save percentage in 12 games, and Dallas goalie Ed Belfour, maligned for not having won the Stanley Cup but in the West finals for the second successive season, has a 1.68 goals-against average and identical save percentage.
"It's going to be a lower-scoring series [than against Detroit]," Sakic said. "They play a great team defensive game and their defense is very physical. Depth-wise, both teams have great depth."
Nieuwendyk, who missed most of last year's playoffs because of a knee injury, welcomes playing against Sakic or Forsberg. "You're so focused because you don't want to be embarrassed," he said. "Forsberg is one of the dominant players in the league right now, and he's playing unbelievable."
Toronto and Buffalo also have never met in the playoffs. Toronto was seeded fourth in the East and Buffalo seventh, but they were separated by only six points. Toronto led the NHL with 268 goals, but Buffalo was the second-best team defensively.
The Maple Leafs bear the burden of being Canada's last Cup hope, and the Sabres know it. "There's a lot of pressure on them, and how well they handle it will determine how well they do in the series," Peca said. "There was a lot of pressure on Ottawa in the first round and they were tight."
Said Sundin: "We put Canada's hopes on our shoulders, but it doesn't add anything for us. We're just happy to be doing what we've been doing all season. We look at this as we're just halfway there."