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NHL CONFERENCE FINALS PREVIEW

Matchups Are Like Looking in Mirror

May 10, 2003|Capsules by Helene Elliott; Research by Roy Jurgens | Times Staff Writer

In any other year, the Minnesota Wild would have been the darling of the NHL playoffs. Seeded sixth in its postseason debut, the Wild rallied from 3-1 series deficits against Colorado and Vancouver to reach the Western Conference finals, displaying remarkable tenacity and poise.

Impressive as the Wild's run has been, the Mighty Ducks' run has been even better. They swept the second-seeded Detroit Red Wings and eliminated the top-seeded Dallas Stars in six games, their best playoff run in the franchise's 10 seasons.

Although the West was unpredictable, the East went according to form, leaving the conference finals to showcase many familiar faces.

The New Jersey Devils made it for the third time in four years after relatively routine five-game victories over the Boston Bruins and Tampa Bay Lightning. Jamie Langenbrunner stepped into the spotlight with seven goals and 11 points, but defensive specialist John Madden also picked up 11 points, including four goals, while neutralizing Boston's Joe Thornton and Tampa Bay's Martin St. Louis.

The Ottawa Senators disposed of the Islanders in five games and the Philadelphia Flyers in six games with impeccable defense and occasional sparks on offense. However, they now bear the burden of being the last Canadian team in the playoffs, a responsibility that carries great weight in hockey's homeland.

Here's a look at how each conference final is likely to unfold:

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6. MINNESOTA vs. 7. MIGHTY DUCKS

*--* Head to head: Series tied, 1-1-2 Series preview: Take a solid defense, outstanding goaltending -- from Dwayne Roloson or Manny Fernandez -- throw in opportunistic scoring and voila! There's the Wild. Minnesota is the spiritual and strategic twin of the Ducks except for the part about splitting the goaltending, which for Anaheim is monopolized by Jean-Sebastien Giguere. Minnesota Coach Jacques Lemaire has been through everything as a player and coach, so there's no situation he can't handle. He communicates that calmness to his players. He has a motley group of talented youngsters, guys who couldn't make it with other teams and a few skill players such as Marian Gaborik and Pascal Dupuis -- again, like the Ducks. He also has speed throughout the lineup and a disciplined defense. Filip Kuba, Willie Mitchell, who helped neutralize Vancouver's Todd Bertuzzi, and Nick Schultz have size and are rarely rattled. The Wild, however, has squeezed more out of its power play (15 for 56) than have the Ducks (four for 41), and that could be a decisive factor. Defying the odds and a sputtering power play, the Ducks have a knack for pouncing on turnovers and making something out of nothing. Few of their goals have resulted from prolonged pressure, and most sprang from turnovers or breaks they created with smart choices and alert thinking. To defeat Minnesota, the Ducks will need each line to chip in. The line of Stanislav Chistov, Samuel Pahlsson and Steve Thomas didn't come alive until the end of the Dallas series, and another nap could be their last this season. Paul Kariya will have to be more of a presence on offense too Key injuries: ANA: Right wing Patric Kjellberg (personal), right wing Dan Bylsma (knee), center Andy McDonald (concussion); MIN: Defenseman Brad Bombadir (back) Goaltenders' records: ANA: Jean-Sebastian Giguere (8-2, 1.60 goals-against average, .949 save percentage); MIN: Dwayne Roloson (5-4, 2.46 goals-against average, .909 save percentage); Manny Fernandez (3-2, goals-against average, .923 save percentage) Fast fact: How's this for balance? The Mighty Ducks don't have a player ranked in the top 30 in playoff scoring, yet 11 Ducks have at least four points and four are tied for the team lead with three goals. The Wild is 6-0 when facing elimination. The only team to win more games when facing elimination was the 1975 Islanders, who won eight times MATCHUPS ANA MIN Goals 2.40 3.00 Goals against 2.00 2.43 Power play 9.7 26.3 Penalty killing 84.8 80.7 Shooting percentage 8.1 12.9 Prediction: No one expected the Ducks to beat Detroit. A few brave souls picked them to upset Dallas. Is there room on the bandwagon now? The Wild today will play its fourth game in six days, after games Wednesday and Thursday to end its second-round series against the Canucks. If Wild players are tired and the well-rested Ducks can get an early jump, that could be crucial for Anaheim. Otherwise, it's even in just about every department. Ducks in seven

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