Stars-Avalanche series should be great

The Dallas Stars finished off the punchless San Jose Sharks last Saturday to continue their defense of the Stanley Cup.

So far, the Stars have played both the seventh- and eighth-seeded teams while positioning themselves in the Western Conference finals.

Waiting for the Stars are the Colorado Avalanche, who have beaten more talented teams - Phoenix and the ever-aging Detroit Red Wings.

Paul Stanley once said, "You gotta lose your mind in Detroit Rock City." That must be what is happening to the Distraught Red Wings, as they were bounced by the Avalanche for the second straight year.

My birthday is in June, but thanks to the Avalanche I have an early present. Have a nice summer Detroit fans. Do yourselves a favor and catch a Tigers game - at least you won't get your hopes up.

The Avalanche and Stars have been mirror-images of each other so far in the playoffs.

They both have identical records of 8-2, winning all six games they have played at home. Both Avs goaltender Patrick Roy and Stars netminder Ed Belfour have been brilliant in helping put together a rematch of last year's Western Conference final, which saw Dallas beat Colorado in seven games.

There are many similarities between the two teams, but what will provide a winner are the differences. Here is a look at the series that should determine the eventual Stanley Cup champion.

Defense: Colorado has the edge here, because it has four very effective defensemen. Adam Foote and Ray Bourque will most likely play against the Mike Modano line that includes Brett Hull and rookie Brendan Morrow.

Foote has been a machine in the playoffs, and against the Red Wings he held Steve Yzerman goal-less. That in itself is incredible solely because Yzerman is 6th on the all-time goals list.

Colorado not only has the defensive-minded Foote, but it also has Sandis Ozolinsh to score goals when called upon and the Ponce De Leon of the NHL, Ray Bourque.

Bourque suffered through an injury for the last two games against Detroit, but he should be ready when the Avs take the ice Saturday against Dallas. Having Bourque to play at the blue line on the power play is a distinct advantage that the Avs have over the Stars.

Because the Avs have two defensive combinations in Foote/Bourque along with Ozolinsh and Aaron Miller, they are able to answer against the Modano line and the rejuvenated Joe Nieuwendyk line.

The problem the Stars may find themselves in is they have only one great defensive line with Darien Hatcher and Dick Matvichuk. The Avs can throw out two really good offensive lines to wear out the Stars defense. Because of the offensive depth the Avs have, the edge has to go to Colorado in defense. Advantage Colorado.

Offense: The Stars are averaging 2.90 goals, while the Avs are averaging 3.00 in the playoffs. Colorado has Joe Sakic, Peter Forsberg, Adam Deadmarsh, Chris Drury, Milan Hedjuk and others that have the capabilities to score at any time. The Stars have Hull and Modano, and it looks like Nieuwendyk is coming around.

Last year Dallas won because it had players come from nowhere to score goals. It will need to have that happen again in order to beat the Avs. Advantage Colorado.

Special teams: This is where Dallas gains ground on Colorado. In the regular season, Dallas killed off 90 percent of its penalties, tops in the league. So far in the playoffs, the Stars are right there again and have the ability to wear out teams with their relentless pressure on the puck handlers.

Colorado has killed off 84 percent of its penalties - dead last among the teams remaining. It didn't help their cause that they were playing the Red Wings, but the fact remains that the Avs may struggle against the Dallas power play.

Although the power play for Colorado is second only to Philadelphia at 22.6 percent, don't look for the Avs to score too many goals on the man-advantage against Dallas. The Stars are simply too good on special teams. Advantage Dallas.

Goaltenders: This is a wash. Roy and Belfour have been awesome and love to play against each other.

When Dallas won last year, the monkey was finally lifted off Belfour's back. He has posted three shutouts in this year's playoffs and doesn't seem to be bothered by his off-ice problems with the law.

Roy has won three Stanley Cups and will likely win another if the Avs can get by Dallas. Roy has made the routine stops, the amazing saves and posted a shutout against the Red Wings.

Beating Detroit in the playoffs for the second straight year has given the Avs the confidence needed to go into Dallas and win. Home ice belongs to Dallas, and that could prove vital in this series for the goalies. Roy has more to prove than Belfour, since the Stars won last year. Advantage Colorado.

The Avs may have too much offense for the Stars, who gave up a lot of goals against Edmonton and San Jose. Avalanche in 6.

The Philadelphia Flyers used their victory against Pittsburgh in Game 2 - a five overtime classic - to propel themselves into the Eastern Conference finals against New Jersey.

Without Eric Lindros for the remainder of the playoffs, and possibly Keith Primeau due to a concussion, the Flyers will need big-time support from John LeClair and Mark Recchi to reach the Stanley Cup finals.

The Flyers have played the tougher schedule thus far in the playoffs, and in doing so they prepared themselves for whatever the Devils may throw at them.

A concern for Philadelphia should be their depth at center if Primeau is gone for the series. Primeau, whose wrister in Game 2 ended the longest game in the modern era, was caught from the blind-side, fell to the ice and hit his head 30 seconds into Game 6.

The Flyers are down to three centers and may have to do some jostling to create the most effective matchups.

The Devils have looked good, but their competition has not been the greatest. Toronto fired off a record six shots in the deciding Game 6, a record for futility. Martin Brodeur has had his best postseason in years and the Devils are in the conference finals for the first time since 1995.

The defense of Scott Stevens and Scott Niedermayer has been crucial, as they were able to hold the Mats Sundin line, which includes Steve Thomas, to one goal the entire series.

Without Lindros and Primeau, I'm not sure the Flyers have enough juice to forge on. New Jersey in 6.

These two series should be very exciting, especially Colorado-Dallas. There are so many great players involved in the series, and of course the Ray Bourque saga.

The Western Conference finals starts Saturday, while the East gets underway on Sunday. This is a can't miss for hockey fans.

Trevor Smith is the Nevada Appeal hockey columnist.

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