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Day at a glance

East Rutherford lacks a hockey feel

Click here for more on this story

Posted: Tuesday May 30, 2000 04:20 PM

By Jamie MacDonald, CNNSI.com

East Rutherford, N.J., is not what you would call a "hockey town." In fact, it doesn't even feel like much of a town at all. With apologies to the Chamber of Commerce, East Rutherford's lasting impression may be an exit -- No. 16W off the New Jersey Turnpike.

The outlet is famous solely for where it takes sports fans: the expansive Meadowlands Sports Complex.

In the coming days it will be the most meaningful destination in a long and winding NHL season. At the end of the 16W off-ramp, surrounded by acres and acres of swamp reeds, the modest East Rutherford skyline beckons. Consisting of little more than Giants Stadium and Continental Airlines Arena, the skyline is simple and straightforward in its setting just beyond the shadows of Manhattan. Just like a desert oasis. Only this is New Jersey. The desert is swamp and the oasis is frozen inside the arena, awaiting Games 1 and 2 of the Stanley Cup finals.

Tuesday night the defending champion Stars and the Devils -- who each have played 17 playoff games thus far -- will engage in the final series of the season. The first team to four victories will see its hard work rewarded.

When we last saw them, the Devils were merely storming back -- historically, no less -- from a 3-1 series deficit to make their first trip to the finals since sweeping the Red Wings in 1995. The Stars, on the other hand, seemed to have the Western Conference finals wrapped up early Saturday night. But they had to weather a frantic Colorado comeback in Game 7 to do so.

For the first time since 1964, both Stanley Cup finalists enter the best-of-seven series off seven-game showdowns. So which team has the momentum? Both. Each is riding the emotional wave of winning a grueling matchup, and neither was idle very long.

The playoffs to this point have been an exciting ride -- tales of courageous triumph under pressure are many -- but the most important piece of the itinerary is what lies at the end of Exit 16W. East Rutherford may not be a booming metropolis, but for the hockey fan this week, it is the most prominent place in the world.

Storylines We're Following

Net effects

Right now Dallas's Ed Belfour is the Conn Smythe trophy front-runner. He's been even-keeled and rock-solid this spring, and it's hard to imagine him faltering now. At the other end of the ice, Martin Brodeur is in the midst of rebuilding the image he tarnished with some shaky performances early in the Eastern Conference finals.

Experience, experience, experience

For all the talk of a youth movement in Dallas -- youngster Brenden Morrow takes a regular shift with Brett Hull and Mike Modano -- the Stars are still a very experienced club. Heck, even checkers Guy Carbonneau, Mike Keane and Kirk Muller share eight Stanley Cup rings. The Devils, though headlined by a young-but-primed top line and playing young'uns Scott Gomez, Brian Rafalski, John Madden and Colin Whiten regularly, are also threaded with veterans Scott Stevens, Randy McKay -- and the ultimate study in playoff experience and experiences, Claude Lemieux.

Home sweet home

For the first time since 1995, Dallas is opening a playoff series on the road (the Stars didn't qualify for the playoffs in '96). Under coach Ken Hitchcock the team has always traveled well, so it will be interesting to see how it responds in the first two games of this series. Who knows? Maybe Dallas has found a way to win a Game 5.

Strange bedfellows

Looking for an interesting connection between these teams? Well, Hitchcock coached defensemen Darryl Sydor for a couple of seasons in junior hockey. But Devils defenseman Scott Niedermayer was also on those teams in the early `90s. Niedermayer and Sydor played three-and-a-half seasons together for the Kamloops Blazers before making their NHL debuts in 1991-92. Looking for another connection? Stars GM Bob Gainey (1973-89) and Devils coach Larry Robinson (1972-89) spent the lion's share of their lengthy NHL careers together in Montreal. Gainey spent his 16-year NHL career with the Canadiens (1973-89), while Robinson played all but three of his NHL seasons for the Habs (1972-89).

Bandwagon
Devils' in-state identity New Jersey Online's sports menu lists (in this order) the Mets, Phillies, Yankees, Eagles, Jets, Giants, Knicks, Nets and Sixers before the Devils in a dropdown menu.
Patrik Elias Chance to shine on the NHL's biggest stage.
Jamie Langenbrunner Questionable for Game 1.
Mike Modano The look on his face after scoring a fluky goal in Game 7 says it all: he's having trouble getting good shots.
Richard Matvichuk Makes Derian Hatcher's blue-line presence even greater.
Ken Hitchcock and Larry Robinson Two of the most genial men in hockey, and darn good coaches, too.
The Brett Hull Show Hockey fans are lucky most of his comments will be recorded.
Refundable Prediction

Getting to the Stanley Cup finals takes the delicate mix of components you hear all the time -- desire, execution, skills, experience, dumb luck, etc. But because the teams still standing this time of year have proven they possess that combination, who actually wins the Stanley Cup will come down to a question of talent. That's why (as of today and subject to change) we like the Stars in five.


 
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