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STANLEY CUP PLAYOFFS

Western Finals: First Look

May 09, 2003|Chris Foster

OFFENSE

The Ducks made do with mostly minimum results offensively in their series against Dallas. Mike Leclerc's first two playoff goals against the Stars were game-winners. Stanislav Chistov and Steve Thomas have been dangerous playing with Samuel Pahlsson on the third line. The Wild was offensively challenged at times this season. That has changed in the playoffs, as the Wild lead all teams in goals and has the top power play during the playoffs. Marian Gaborik, who had a team-high 30 goals during the regular season, leads all NHL players with nine goals during the playoffs. During Minnesota's comeback from a 3-1 deficit in its series against Vancouver, the Wild scored 16 goals in the final three games. The Wild is getting key goals from Wes Walz, Cliff Ronning and Andrew Brunette. Former Duck Richard Park is having a strong playoff run.

DEFENSE

The Ducks have the best group of no-names in the league, although veteran Keith Carney is emerging as a recognizable name. Kurt Sauer is playing well beyond his age of 22. Ruslan Salei is completely recovered from a back injury and it showed in the Dallas series. He is a solid defender, with some offensive skills, and one of the team's best penalty killers. Like the Ducks, the Wild is low on recognition and high on effectiveness, with a defense-first policy that allowed 178 goals, sixth fewest in the NHL. Filip Kuba is developing into a solid NHL defenseman with some offensive capabilities.

GOALTENDING

The Ducks' Jean-Sebastien Giguere has been the talk of the playoffs. He has been playing at the same level for two seasons, but is finally starting to get noticed. Manny Fernandez and Dwayne Roloson have been a tag-team goaltending set. The Wild is the only team in the playoffs to regularly switch goalies. Roloson had a career-year in the regular season, but Fernandez has been more consistent in the playoffs.

COACHING

Jacques Lemaire has been through the playoff rigors many times. He won two division titles and one Stanley Cup coaching New Jersey, but was never been voted coach of the year. He is a strong candidate for that award this season. The Ducks' Mike Babcock has proven his worth, from training camp, during the regular season and during the playoffs.

FINAL ANALYSIS

The Ducks are more talented, deeper and have better goaltending. They are rested, while the Wild has slugged it out in two seven-game series. So words that couldn't be said without snickering before this season: Ducks ... reach ... Stanley ... Cup ... final.

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