Anaheim Mighty Ducks (7th in the West) vs. New Jersey Devils (2nd in the East)
The 2003 Stanley Cup final, featuring two conservative, low-scoring teams, will turn on one simple question: Who has the better goaltender?
Yes, the rest of the Mighty Ducks and Devils can play: They're smart, well-coached, reasonably skilled, opportunistic, composed. Very respectable teams. But New Jersey and Anaheim are still skating because Jean-Sebastian Giguere shut down everyone in the West and Martin Brodeur outplayed all rivals in the East (though just barely against Ottawa).
They make an interesting pair: Giguere the unlikely new star emerging from the pack, Brodeur the veteran MVP candidate. An Anaheim championship - unimaginable a few weeks ago - would place Giguere among the great goalies in Stanley Cup history. Brodeur is after his third Stanley Cup in nine years, which would place the Devils alongside Detroit as the greatest team of the last decade.
Statistically, there is little to choose between the Ducks and Devils. They don't score much. The power plays are weak. Among the regular season scoring leaders, only the Devils' Jamie Langenbrunner has stepped forward in the playoffs. He has nine goals, including four game-winners. Langenbrunner and John Madden form the most potent offensive duo on either side. Otherwise it's scoring-by-committee.
Two goals per game should be enough to win this series, which does not promise to be a fan-friendly show. The Devils have never been the game's most exciting team, and the Ducks played a few real snoozers against Minnesota. The current NHL rewards cautious, risk-free hockey, and by those standards either team would be a worthy champion.
Bottom Line: Do the Devils have enough scoring, especially with Joe Nieuwendyk on the limp? Somehow, they always manage to find the goals they need. In every series so far, the Ducks have started on the road and come home with a 2-0 series lead. If they can do it again they win the Stanley Cup. But if the Devils squeeze out an early victory against Giguere, all the momentum swings to the more experienced team - and more experienced goalie - on the Jersey side.
Devils win in six games.
Record so far: Picked 10 out of 14 series winners.