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Kostya Kennedy's Breakdown
Dallas    Colorado 
Now that Joe Nieuwendyk is in the flow -- he scored his fourth goal of the playoffs in Game 5 against the Sharks -- Dallas has its front-line forwards working. Nieuwendyk, Brett Hull and Mike Modano have to continue to shoulder the scoring load against the explosive Avalanche.  OFFENSE

The Edge:

Suddenly he's Forsberg the finisher. The Avalanche's deep cast of offensive players gets so much stronger when Peter Forsberg, their best player, is potting the puck consistently. And that's what he's doing. 

The return of forward Jere Lehtinen, a perennial Selke Trophy candidate, makes this defensively responsible club even more so. Dallas is brilliant at stopping teams before they have a chance to get up ice. Then, when the Stars get a lead, they're brutally effective.  DEFENSE

The Edge:

Underrated blueliners Jon Klemm and Aaron Miller played exceptionally well against the Red Wings, rallying to top form when Ray Bourque went out with his knee injury. Adam Foote continues to play like an All-Star, but the Avalanche needs to get Bourque back at some point. 

When the Stars suffered some rare defensive lapses in Game 5 against San Jose, Ed Belfour saved them time and again. He's coming off last year's impressive Stanley Cup run, two shutouts in this year's second round, and is the hottest playoff goalie in the land.  IN GOAL

The Edge:

The Avalanche might have beaten Detroit anyway, but it was Patrick Roy's brilliance that set the tone for a convincing five-game decision. He held Detroit to just one goal in the first two games and was his usual unflappable self when the Wings stepped up the pressure. Dallas has little hope of rattling him. 

The Dallas power play returned to excellent form when defenseman Sergei Zubov came back from a knee injury to man the point in the San Jose series. Around the net, Hull is one of the most dangerous power play forces in the league.   PP

The Edge:

Always dangerous, this group gets scary when Bourque's playing next to superb puck-carrier Sandis Ozolinsh. If Bourque's in the lineup, the battle of the Avs' power play against the Stars first-rate penalty killers could be the key to the series. 

As I mentioned in my breakdown of the San Jose-Dallas series, the Stars are the best in the league. Their effectiveness is two-pronged: A) They allow very few good shots to reach Belfour and B) they're so good that they intimidate teams into making sloppy mistakes.  PK

The Edge:

A decent group that's explosive enough to turn the puck the other way. Joe Sakic has been splendid on the penalty kill. Colorado takes more risks than most teams, which makes the Avalanche fun to watch. 

Ken Hitchcock has already begun motivating his troops. He has labeled the Stars "underdogs" in this series even though they're the defending Stanley Cup champions and have the first two games at home. Whether up or down in the series, Hitch's team will be mentally ready for every game.  COACH

The Edge:

Bob Hartley's tinkering with line combinations has worked extremely well. That means his players go where he tells them to go without question. If Colorado gets down, Hartley has to be careful to keep his cool. 

With Zubov and Lehtinen back, this team is as close to fully healthy as it's been all year. Considering the success it's had while under-manned, the key returnees might make the Stars feel invincible.  INTANGIBLES

The Edge:

They have the speed to buzz through the Stars' grit. They also have the Bourque factor: His presence will be a motivator as long as Colorado lasts in these playoffs. 

Nieuwendyk: He must continue contributing offensively to give Dallas balance in its attack. Lehtinen: After a long layoff, he'll be expected to thrive in the Stars' most intense games of the year.  X-FACTOR

The Edge:

Forsberg: He was easily the most dominating skater in the Detroit series and if he performs like that again, the Avalanche could control play when he's on the ice. 
Kennedy's Prediction: Dallas in 7

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