Dateline: May 16/02
(1) Detroit Red Wings versus (2) Colorado Avalanche
As Colorado and San Jose wrapped up this year's most exciting playoff series on Wednesday, many hockey fans probably saw it as a fierce battle for a dubious honour: The right to go to Michigan and get your butt kicked.
Is Detroit that good? It's hard to conclude otherwise. Vancouver turned out to be the best possible opening round opponent for the Wings. A pair of losses to the Canucks shook the team from its late-season torpor. They have been untouchable ever since.
Everyone scores and everyone plays defence. Fourteen Detroit players have a goal in these playoffs and every regular has a point. Steve Yzerman is a candidate for playoff MVP, though his team mate Sergei Federov is perhaps the better all-around player. Several quality defensemen back up the blueline all stars, Chris Chelios and Nicklas Lidstrom. Dominik Hasek hasn't lived up to his Dominator nickname, but it's hard to dominate when you face just 16 shots, as Hasek did in the final game against St. Louis. Detroit is so dominant it has actually been rather boring to watch.
Red Wings' MVP: Yzerman is the obvious choice. But how about Federov? Or Lidstrom, who plays 30 minutes every night against the best opposing forwards?
Red Wings' secret weapon: The bench. By rotating players like Pavel Datsyuk and Boyd Devereaux through the lineup, and parceling out limited ice time to veterans like Luc Robitaille and Tomas Holmstrom, coach Scotty Bowman keeps the Wings motivated and opponents guessing.
How they got here: Defeated Vancouver in six games and St. Louis in five games.
The Avalanche spent most of the last week staring at the prospect of elimination. But with a little rope-a-dope and plenty of determined hockey, they made it back from the brink. Their performance has prompted talk of a winning mystique surrounding the Stanley Cup champions.
They have played the maximum 14 playoff games to this point, so fatigue has to be a concern. This is especially so on defence, where Colorado relies on a four-man unit for most of the hard labor. Blake, Foote, Devries and Kasparaitus are as good a foursome as any, but their sore bodies will be sorely tested against Detroit.
There is more depth up front. The Avalanche have the playoffs' leading scorer and a remarkable comeback story in Peter Forsberg. After missing the entire regular season with health problems, he is ruling the game at the most demanding time of year and improving by the day. Chris Drury and Alex Tanguay are scoring a few, Joe Sakic remains one of hockey's most explosive players and defensive specialists like Mike Keane and Stephane Yelle deserve far more credit than they get.
Avalanche MVP: Forsberg arrived just in time to pull this team from the fire.
Avalanche secret weapon: Dan Hinote. The fourth line bruiser rolls into the opposition zone like a night train whenever his team needs an energy boost.
How they got here: Defeated Los Angeles in seven games and San Jose in seven games.
Prediction: When his team desperately needs a win, Patrick Roy still delivers the goods. But overall he has had an ordinary playoff and the Avalanche are giving up a lot of goals. The Red Wings were never in serious trouble against Vancouver or St. Louis: As soon as Detroit flexed its muscles the opposition's confidence and game plan evaporated. The Wings will have no such luxury against the Avalanche, who shrug off losses and appear to enjoy going into overtime with the season on the line. Detroit and Colorado are far better than either Eastern Conference contender, so the winner of this series will almost surely win the Stanley Cup.
Detroit in six.
Next page > Eastern Conference: Toronto versus Carolina > Page 1, 2