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Kostya Kennedy's Breakdown
Dallas    San Jose 
Big guns Brett Hull and Mike Modano each averaged a point per game in the first round and it won't be long before playoff force Joe Nieuwendyk (three assists) starts scoring as well. This is an opportunistic, if non-explosive offense. The deep Stars tend to get timely goals from unlikely sources, as they did from Guy Carbonneau and Roman Lyashenko in the first round.  OFFENSE

The Edge:

Rough-and-tumble right wing Owen Nolan is the go-to player and a very good one -- he had 44 goals in the regular season and six more against the Blues in in their first-round series. Centers Vincent Damphousse, Mike Ricci and Patrick Marleau give the Sharks decent punch up the middle; the Sharks will need it because they get little production from the blue line. 

The projected return of defenseman Sergei Zubov really helps the unit, giving them some much needed speed and puck movement. As for the basics, no one blocks shots or clears the puck more effectively than this group, and the forwards pursue their defensive responsibilities in earnest.   DEFENSE

The Edge:

The core of blueliners, led by Gary Suter, rookie Brad Stuart and Marcus Ragnarsson proves a reliable bunch. But San Jose will give up big plays at bad times and has a tendency to fall apart if it makes a few defensive mistakes. 

Ed Belfour was sharp against the Oilers and apart from one bad stretch in one bad game, seems to be on an even keel. He's a money goalie who will provide some spectacular moments even if he isn't on his way to duplicating last year's performance.   IN GOAL

The Edge:

Steve Shields got the Sabres into the second round in 1997 when he filled in for an injured Dominik Hasek. This year he's the No. 1 and, apart from a meltdown in Game 6, he outplayed St. Louis's Roman Turek. Shields can be uneven and you don't want to rely on him to steal games, but he's certainly good enough to win with. 

Again, the return of Zubov, who is brilliant on the point, helps tremendously. The Stars need him because their power play is always ordinary and has been absolutely awful (2-for-26) in the playoffs thus far.   PP

The Edge:

Nolan is always a force on the power play but if you can contain him -- and left wing Jeff Friesen -- the Sharks can be shut down. They aren't great on the point but they do enough work down low to capitalize with reasonable effectiveness (6-for-35 against the Blues). 

Nobody does it better. Led by ageless center Carbonneau and younger players such as Blake Sloan, the Stars can be suffocating. They generally keep good positioning, but even when play breaks down into a scramble they shut teams down.  PK

The Edge:

They're a danger to score when down a man -- keep an eye on center Marco Sturm -- and they won't be shy about taking risks in this series. They have solid veterans on the penalty kill who will seek to neutralize Zubov. 

If anyone thinks the Stars might be ripe for a letdown against the No. 8 seed, they haven't spent much time around Ken Hitchcock. He regularly finds new ways to motivate this veteran club, and he'll have them sharp from the get- go.   COACH

The Edge:

The first-round upset over the Blues may have saved Darryl Sutter's job. He did well in keeping the Sharks loose in Game 7 -- even though they had squandered a 3-to-1 series lead -- and he'll try to keep them that way until they bow out. 

They know they should have an easier time in this series than either the Red Wings or Colorado will have in the other semis. They'll be focused on making short work of the Sharks and moving on.   INTANGIBLES

The Edge:

They're a physical bunch and will try to set the tone with the rough, intimidating style that got them here. Don't expect it to work against the hardened Stars. 

Zubov. If he's fully healthy and playing many minutes with high effectiveness, Dallas will seem much more dangerous with the puck.   X-FACTOR

The Edge:

Nolan. He's the most dangerous player in the series, on either team, and as he showed in the first round, he can carry the Sharks. 
Kennedy's Prediction: Dallas in 5

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