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CNNSI.com's Morning Skate

Stars hope to get a line on Devils' top trio

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Posted: Thursday June 01, 2000 05:38 PM

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J.-- You've probably heard of New Jersey's Jason Arnott-Patrik Elias-Petr Sykora line by now. If you haven't yet, pay attention. The Stars' Mike Modano and Brett Hull will be. Modano and his linemates -- Hull and Brendan Morrow -- will be checking the NHL's new it line tonight.

"Our line's going to play against Arnott's line," Modano said. (Note: for what it's worth, Modano pronounced the name Ar-NOTT, as the Devils' right wing was called was called during his younger days in Edmonton). "That's the matchup we'll have for the rest of the night and probably the rest of the series. It's the best line and that's usually the going trend. After watching Game 1, I think we realize their line carries the bulk of the offense. And that will be our job."

Their task, according to Stars coach Ken Hitchcock, is moot unless the game is close. Hitchcock says his team's close-to-the-vest checking style is ineffective when the team is trailing -- forcing Dallas to live by the sword or die by the sword. That philosophy goes for matching forward lines as well defensive pairings.

"The problem is when you get down 3-1, matchups become almost irrelevant, because you are taken out of that [tight-checking] atmosphere," Hitchcock explains. "When we got down [in Game 1] and needed goals, you go with a more transitional lineup. I think [Darryl] Sydor and [Sergei] Zubov move the puck better than Matty [Richard Matvichuk] and Hatch [Derian Hatcher] do, so you're looking to add some offensive spark. So the downside is that they got scored on. Upside is that you are going to have to do some of those things when you get down early."

We play defense, too

The Stars know that it takes more than simply putting up personal numbers to win championships; it takes some dirty work, too. They backcheck, forecheck and play smart defensively. The Devils, too, have been a study in the same pursuit for several years now. Only these days, New Jersey has a line grabbing headlines thanks to 11-point outbursts in Stanley Cup openers. But Arnott, Elias and Sykora are also playing great two-way hockey.

"I try to work with them a bit on their defensive positioning," said coach Larry Robinson, "When you get into the playoffs you know chances against are as important as chances for. So as long as the have the puck and they are creating things and not putting themselves in a position where they are giving the other team chances, then by all means, I don't touch it. But when they are out there and the are spending 80% of the time in their zone, I don't like that as well."

Arnott, who has a habit of crediting his linemates for emerging as a player, has been listening.

"When we're on the ice against Modano or Hull, even with [Joe] Nieuwendyk, you always have to be aware," Arnott said. "They have so many guys who can score over there [in addition to playing] good defense. We have a similar team. As long as we go out and do the little things that Larry's been telling us -- to keep it simple and play our style of hockey -- good things will happen for us.

Nine is the Stars' luckiest number

Hittchcock said he expects all the forwards to play their best hockey in order for the team to climb back into this series, specifically pointing out Nieuwendyk. "If you look at it from an offensive standpoint, Jersey's got nine forwards who can contribute offensively. If we can get to match that nine-forward performance, if we can get to that level, then Nieuwendyk's group is going to have to become a factor in this series. But it is more that group of nine."

Short shifts

When asked if he thought there would be some more penalties called early in Game 2, Hitchcock said, "I sure hope so. Because it is tough having a power-play meetings with nothing to talk about." ...On his off day, Modano went into Manhattan, had lunch in Greenwich Village and walked down Madison Avenue. ...Mike Keane, who has a navy blue interlocking NY tattoo on his left biceps, took in last night's Yankees game at the Stadium -- his first trip there. ... Jamie Langenbrunner, who skated briefly on Tuesday only to have his injured knee feel worse on Wednesday, will not play in Game 2. In Hitchcock parlance, "Not a player today. He's better, but he's not ready." ...Derian Hatcher's knee was shaken in Game 1, but not stirred, -- so he is a player. ...Same goes for New Jersey's John Madden, who left Game 1 late in the third and did not return, but said he would have had the game not been out of hand by then. The Stars are 8-0 in the playoffs after a loss.

 
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