Playoff preview

April 17, 2002|By Chicago Tribune

Eastern Conference

Bruins vs. Canadiens

Outlook: The Bruins responded to general manager Mike O'Connell's decision to replace Mike Keenan with Robbie Ftorek as their coach by going from a non-qualifier for the playoffs to the top of the Eastern Conference. Boston has a dynamic offense and a wealth of depth. The negatives: The Bruins are the league's most penalized team, and they have the most overtime losses. This is the first postseason appearance in four years for the Canadiens, who have won more Stanley Cup games and championships than any other team in NHL history. They were outshot 75 percent of the time during their regular-season games, but goaltender Jose Theodore's .931 save percentage was the key to their success.

Pick: Boston in five.

Flyers vs. Senators

Outlook: Jeremy Roenick has had an outstanding season as evidenced by his plus/minus rating of plus-33, but he has been fighting a late-season battle of wounded knee. The late-season addition of another accomplished center, Adam Oates, has made a strong offense even stronger. Another plus: The Flyers' road record of 22-14-5 is the best in the Eastern Conference. The Senators have speed and skill up front and two of the league's unsung stars on defense, Wayne Redden and Zdeno Charo. But, dating back to April 1998, they have lost 11 straight playoff games on the road.

Pick: Philadelphia in five.

Hurricanes vs. Devils

Outlook: The Hurricanes, champions of the weak Southeast Division, are trying to advance beyond the opening round of the playoffs for the first time since 1986 - when the franchise was located in Hartford. During the regular season, Carolina won five more games on the road than at home. The Devils are basically the same team that won the Stanley Cup in 2000 and took Colorado to Game 7 before losing in last year's championship series. However, after the Devils underachieved in the first half of the season, coach Larry Robinson was fired (and later rehired as an assistant) and Kevin Constantine became their third coach in less than three years. Defense is paramount in the playoffs, and the Devils boast the best in the East.

Pick: New Jersey in five.

Maple Leafs vs. Islanders

Outlook: Nobody in the East has an offense comparable to Toronto's, and Curtis Joseph is one of the game's best goaltenders. If it hadn't been for injuries late in the season, the Leafs would have taken the conference title. The Islanders are the most improved team in the NHL - 44 points better than last season -and they have played well against the top four seeds in the conference. Defensemen Adrian Aucoin, Roman Hamrlik and Kenny Jonsson, who have been averaging better than 25 minutes per game, have contributed a total of 33 goals to the offense.

Pick: Toronto in six.

Western Conference

Red Wings vs. Canucks

Outlook: There's a lot to like about the Red Wings - the finest record in the NHL, the No. 1 coach in NHL history in Scotty Bowman and nine potential Hall of Fame players in goalie Dominik Hasek, defensemen Chris Chelios and Nicklas Lidstrom and forwards Brett Hull, Steve Yzerman, Sergei Fedorov, Luc Robitaille, Igor Larinov and Brendan Shanahan. Yzerman is nursing a sore knee and may start the series at wing instead of center. The Canucks ended the season by going 8-1-1. Vancouver boasts the best offense in the NHL - led by the league's second-leading scorer, Markus Naslund - but it also has the most porous defense of the eight Western qualifiers.

Pick: Detroit in five.

Avalanche vs. Kings

Outlook: The defending Stanley Cup champion had, by far, the best defense in the NHL. It gave up 18 fewer goals than Detroit, the next-stingiest team. Goalie Patrick Roy and 1998 Norris Trophy winner Rob Blake are the backbones of the defense. The Kings' special teams are truly special - their power play ranked first in the NHL and their penalty-killing ranked third. Last spring, the Kings took the Avalanche to Game 7 in the Western semifinals.

Pick: Colorado in seven.

Sharks vs. Coyotes

Outlook: Coach Darryl Sutter leads the Stanley Cup dark horse. The Sharks have four lines and some good defensemen. They are fast and physical. Relentless forechecking triggers offensive opportunities. Goaltenders Evgeni Nabokov and Mikka Kiprusoff are capable of making tough saves. Goaltender Sean Burke's .920 save percentage underscores how much he means to Phoenix, a team that has earned the sixth seed despite having a plethora of no-name players. Defenseman Danny Markov's fractured ankle cost the Coyotes one of their best players.

Pick: San Jose in five.

Blues vs. Blackhawks

Outlook: The Blues were 8-2 in their last 10 games and ended the season by scoring back-to-back victories over Detroit to go into the playoffs with a four-game winning streak. Chris Pronger and Al MacInnis are two of the NHL's top defensemen - offensively and defensively. For Chicago, a 5-4-1 record in the final 10 games isn't very impressive, but a 3-1-1 season record against St. Louis is a favorable omen. Coach Brian Sutter has brought out the best in the Hawks and has taken them to the playoffs for the first time in five years. The Hawks have the poorest road record of the 16 playoff contestants, 13-20-8.

Pick: Blackhawks in seven.

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