GAME: Dallas Stars at Colorado Avalanche.
PLAYOFF SERIES: Western Conference quarterfinals, Game 1.
TIME: Wednesday, 10 p.m. EDT.
With a roster constructed specifically for a run in these playoffs, the
Colorado Avalanche don't exactly look up to the task yet.
The fourth-seeded Avalanche open their quarterfinal series against the
Dallas Stars, who also struggled at the end of the season.
With labor problems looming that could lead to a canceled season in 2004-05,
Avalanche general manager Pierre Lacroix made two bold moves during the
offseason. He signed Paul Kariya and Teemu Selanne to one-year contracts,
adding the star forwards to an already loaded Avalanche lineup with an eye on
winning the Stanley Cup.
The Avs appeared to have an almost unstoppable group on paper, with Kariya
and Selanne joining Joe Sakic, Peter Forsberg, Rob Blake, Alex Tanguay and
Milan Hejduk, but the experiment has not translated as well as Lacroix had
Selanne slumped and had one of the worst seasons of his career, recording
just 16 goals and 16 assists in 78 games. Kariya has had an even more
frustrating season, enduring numerous injuries and playing only 51 games.
Kariya's latest injury came at the worst possible time, as the left wing
suffered a sprained ankle Sunday in the regular-season finale against
Nashville. He is out indefinitely.
Despite the injuries and inconsistency, Colorado still finished with 100
points, but lost out on the Northwest Division title when it was passed by
Vancouver late in the season.
Selanne and the rest of the Avs, though, say they're ready to go.
"Everybody feels good about this team," Selanne said. "We know how good
we can be. Now, when every shift is going to matter, I'm expecting huge things
from this team, from myself and from everybody."
Sakic, the captain during both of Colorado's Stanley Cup runs, says the Avs
are only focused on the postseason.
"All year we've been looking forward to this moment," Sakic said. "It
starts fresh now. Everybody's got to win 16 games to win the Stanley Cup. We
have home ice right here and we have a good chance to rebound."
All of Colorado's star power won't matter, however, unless David Aebischer
does his best Patrick Roy impression in net. Aebischer, the fourth-year
goaltender who took over following Roy's offseason retirement, had a breakout
season with 32 wins and a 2.09 goals-against average.
Colorado did get some good news on the injury front Monday, learning that
Tanguay, sidelined by a knee injury for the final 11 regular-season games,
could be ready for Wednesday's game. Center Andrei Nikolishin and defenseman
Kurt Sauer could also be back for Game 1.
Dallas also slumped somewhat before the playoffs, going 1-2-0-2 to close the
season following a six-game unbeaten streak (5-0-1). The Stars will have to
overcome Colorado's home-ice advantage, a factor that could be very significant
considering Dallas was just 15-19-5-2 on the road, compared to 26-7-8-0 at the
American Airlines Center.
The Avs, though, were a much better road team this season, going 21-8-7-5 as
compared to 19-14-6-0 in Denver.
"It's going to be a great series. If you're to get started and have a
wake-up call in the first round of the playoffs, certainly that's the team that
you'll get it from," Dallas captain Mike Modano said.
The Stars were the NHL's top defensive team this season, allowing a
league-low 175 goals. That was due in large part to goalie Marty Turco, who had
a career-high 37 wins, nine shutouts and a 1.98 GAA.
Turco returned from a four-game high-sticking suspension in Dallas' season
finale. Ron Tugnutt started while Turco was out, and the Stars lost all four
games, including two in overtime.
"It's a different game when he's out there," Modano said of Turco.
Colorado's defense will be focused on keeping physical Dallas forwards Bill
Guerin, Jason Arnott and Brendan Morrow, who combined for 60 goals this season,
away from the front of Aebischer's net. Modano, Pierre Turgeon and Valeri Bure
give the Stars speed to go with the physical aspect of their offense.
The Stars and Avalanche have met twice in the postseason, both times in the
conference finals, with Dallas winning seven-game series in 1999 and 2000.
Game 2 is Friday night at the Pepsi Center.
HOW THEY GOT HERE: Stars - 97 points, 5th seed. Avalanche - 100 points, 4th
TEAM LEADERS: Stars - Guerin, 34 goals and 69 points; Arnott, 36 assists;
Steve Ott, 152 PIM. Avalanche - Sakic, 33 goals and 87 points; Sakic and
Tanguay, 54 assists; Peter Worrell, 179 PIM.
SPECIAL TEAMS: Stars - Power play: 15.9 percent (52 for 328), 18th in NHL.
Penalty killing: 85.9 percent (267 for 311), 4th. Avalanche - Power play: 20.4
percent (74 for 363), 3rd. Penalty killing: 83.8 percent (299 for 357), 16th.
GOALTENDERS: Stars - Turco (37-21-13, 9 SO, 1.98 GAA); Tugnutt (3-7-0, 1,
2.41). Avalanche - Aebischer (32-19-9, 4, 2.09); Tommy Salo (18-21-7, 3, 2.56).
REGULAR SEASON SERIES: Avalanche, 3-1. Aebischer started all four games and
allowed just three goals in winning the first three matchups, including a
29-save, 3-0 victory in the first meeting Nov. 15. Turco struggled against the
Avs, giving up 11 goals in the three defeats before making 15 saves in a 5-1
win on Feb. 20. Tanguay had three goals and two assists for Colorado, while
Arnott recorded a hat trick in the final meeting and had four goals and an
assist in the series.