Devils get their due |
The Devils' Jason Arnott had 22 goals and 34 assists during the regular season. Elsa Hasch/Allsport
By Pierre McGuire, Sports Illustrated
The Devils are it in the East. They have size, strength, very underrated speed, and a will to win that makes them a serious contender to knock off the defending champs. And it all starts with balance.
Coach Larry Robinson has four lines and three sets of defense that he can play at any time of a game. The Jason Arnott-Patrik Elias-Petr Sykora line will cause all sorts of havoc because their cycling ability can wear Dallas' in-zone coverage down. And Bobby Holik, who has a nice little checking buddy in John Madden, has proven he can play against slick centermen.
The Devils also initiate at the point of attack as well as any team in the NHL. Their style is not for the faint of heart. It hurts just thinking about the
collisions we'll see in this series with the huge hitting potential of Ken
Daneyko, Colin White and wrecking machine Scott Stevens. Devils defensemen know
how to break down the trap, too. Scott Niedermayer is a one-man trap breaker
whose explosive skating ability will force the Stars to target him early. And if
he gets loose, look out.
Thanks to their system, size and the fact they can play and thrive on bad ice, the Devils become a dangerous foe once they get to Dallas.
And, oh, by the way, what happened to the vaunted Flyers' power play against the Devils? The answer is easy. Stevens and Daneyko cleared out down low so that
goalie Martin Brodeur could see the shots, and aggressive and wily forwards
like Madden, Pandolfo and Nemchinov closed down passing and shooting lanes.
The X-factor in all of this is persistent superpest and Mr. Everything in the
playoffs Claude Lemieux. Need a big goal? Lemieux is there. Need a big swing in
momentum? Yup, Lemieux is there, too. Want to see grown men go nuts? Just sic
Claude on 'em. Coach Robinson knows he has a special weapon in Lemieux. All in
all, it will be a great series, with two teams that are virtual images of each
other. Heck, even their systems look alike. However, the Devils have a team that
matches up perfectly in terms of size and experience.
| Stars power |
Brett Hull's triple-overtime goal won the Stanley Cup for the Stars last season. Jamie Squire/Allsport
By Kostya Kennedy, Sports Illustrated
Dallas coach Ken Hitchcock observed that the Stars "beat a hell of a hockey
team" after they outlasted Colorado in seven games in the Western
Conference finals. They're poised to do that again. This could be the best
Stanley Cup matchup in a decade. Both teams are deep, physically imposing and
defensively sound, which should make for yet another long and grueling series.
Where Dallas separates itself -- ever so slightly -- is in its abundance of big-game players. The Devils have balanced offense by they don't have a trio of
players like Mike Modano, Brett Hull and Joe Nieuwendyk, any of whom is likely
to take over a shift in the late stages of the game.
Dallas also has an advantage in the most important position: Goal. For some
reason there are still some Ed Belfour detractors who don't recognize him for
how spectacular he has been over the years. Belfour has his mind set on winning
another Cup and debunking his doubters one more time. When he is focused,
Belfour is as good as any keeper in the game and in recent seasons he has
learned to thrive in high pressure.
The Devils' Martin Brodeur remains an elite keeper, and a great puck handler, but he's not seeing the puck the way Belfour is these days.
In a series as closely matched as this one, every small edge is vital and no
coach is better at exploiting weaknesses than Hitchcock. Look for the Stars to
capitalize on any sloppy play (we're bound to see a few of those from Devils
defenseman Vladimir Malakhov) and to put pressure on at well-calculated points
in the game.
If Devils coach Larry Robinson remains interested in coaching over the long
term, he has the skills to be successful. But Robinson is simply not yet in
Hitch's class and is primed to get a schooling in this one.
New Jersey will give the Stars a good ride, but they won't dethrone the champs.