GAME: Colorado Avalanche(43-30-9) at Dallas Stars (53-23-6).
PLAYOFF SERIES: Western Conference quarterfinals.
TIME: Saturday, 3 p.m. EDT.
After setting a franchise record for wins in a season, the Dallas Stars look to take aim at their first Stanley Cup appearance in six years.
The Stars begin the playoffs at home with a quarterfinal matchup against the Colorado Avalanche, the team that eliminated them in 2003-04 and who they faced in two memorable seven-game series back when both were Western Conference powers.
The Stars re-emerged as a top team this season, winning 53 games, and their 112 points were second only to the 1999 Stanley Cup-winning team. Dallas won the Pacific Division, its seventh division title in the last nine seasons, and enters as the second seed.
Colorado struggled with goaltending issues and made it into the playoffs as the seventh seed with 95 points and finished ahead of the Edmonton Oilers via tiebreaker. The Avalanche's 95 points matched the 1997-98 team for the lowest season total for the franchise since moving to Colorado in 1995.
The Avalanche beat Dallas 4-1 in the first round in 2004, avenging two Game 7 losses in the conference finals to Dallas in 1999 and 2000. The Stars were denied in their bid to repeat as Stanley Cup champions in 2000, losing to the New Jersey Devils.
"There's so much emphasis placed on the last time you did that, but we don't think about that at all," Dallas coach Dave Tippett said of facing Colorado. "We're thinking about what we have to do this year. The regular season is to earn your spot and tell yourself whether you're good enough to compete in there or not and we feel like we've earned that confidence."
Unlike Colorado, which has started four goalies this season, Dallas has had no such problem in net.
Marty Turco won 41 games while posting a 2.55 goals-against average, and the Stars went 15-6-3 after the Olympic break to run away with the division title.
"Everybody's healthy," Tippett said. "Turco is going into the playoffs with no hiccups this year. So we feel good about where we're at."
Jere Lehtinen scored a career-high 33 goals for the Stars this season, and Jason Arnott scored 32, his most since netting 33 as a rookie in 1993-94.
The Avalanche could credit most of their postseason success to the goaltending of Patrick Roy, but the inconsistency of his successor - David Aebischer - was one of the reasons for Colorado's struggles this season. Aebischer was dealt to the Montreal Canadiens on March 8 for Jose Theodore, who will be the Avalanche's starting goaltender. The former Hart and Vezina Trophy winner was inconsistent with the Canadiens, going 17-15-5 with a 3.46 GAA before fracturing his right heel while pouring salt on a patch of ice outside his Montreal home during the Olympic break. He started only four games for the Avalanche, losing his last three.
"As the games went on I feel better and better," said Theodore. "In the playoffs you need a goalie to make the big saves."
Theodore, though, has provided some of his best playoff goaltending on underdog teams. He backstopped the Canadiens to quarterfinal upsets of the Boston Bruins in 2002 and 2004.
Avalanche coach Joel Quenneville has not experienced the same kind of success, taking the Blues - a team he coached from 1997-2004 - past the second round only once in seven tries.
HOW THEY GOT HERE: Avalanche - 95 points; 7th seed. Stars - 112 points; 2nd seed.
REGULAR SEASON TEAM LEADERS: Avalanche - Joe Sakic and Marek Svatos, 32 goals; Sakic, 55 assists and 87 points; Ian Laperriere, 116 PIM. Stars - Lehtinen, 33 goals; Sergei Zubov, 58 assists, Mike Modano 77 points; Brenden Morrow, 183 PIM.
REGULAR SEASON SPECIAL TEAMS: Avalanche - Power play: 18.8 percent (89 for 473), 9th in NHL. Penalty killing: 84.6 percent (378 for 447), 6th. Stars - Power play: 17.7 percent (88 for 498), 20th. Penalty killing: 83.7 percent (422 for 504), 11th.
GOALTENDERS: Avalanche - Theodore (18-18-6, 0 SO, 3.41 GAA); Peter Budaj (14-10-6, 2, 2.86). Stars - Turco (41-19-5, 3, 2.55); Johan Hedberg (12-4-1, 2.67).
REGULAR SEASON SERIES: Stars, 3-1. Modano had three goals and an assist for the Stars, who won twice in shootouts, while Andrew Brunette had a goal and four assists for Colorado.