Surprisingly, the team's biggest stumbling block in the later rounds will be in goal. Despite a history that includes 10 overtime wins for the Montreal Canadiens in the 1993 playoffs and three postseason shutouts during Colorado's 1996 Stanley Cup run, the ever-confident Patrick Roy rarely steals a game anymore—a playoff necessity. Roy always embraces a challenge, but right now he is a notch below the Blues' Roman Turek and Dallas's Ed Belfour in the Western Conference.
4 Which is the most dangerous lower-seeded team?
The red flag went up around the NHL when Buffalo general manager Darcy Regier acquired center Doug Gilmour to revive a fading club. The Sabres, who won seven of their final 10 games to qualify for the eighth berth in the East, are loaded up the middle with Gilmour, Michael Peca and the underrated Curtis Brown. "How lucky is it to finish first in the conference and have to play the Sabres, with the MVP goalie from two of the last three years?" St. Louis general manager Larry Pleau asks. "You work hard all year to be Number 1; then you play Hasek. I'd be scared as hell if I played them." That first-round opponent turned out to be Philadelphia.
5 Who is the goalie in the Eastern Conference?
Six of the eight starting goalies—Brodeur, Ottawa's Tom Barrasso, Buffalo's Dominik Hasek, Toronto's Curtis Joseph, Washington's Olaf Kolzig (left) and Florida's Mike Vernon—have combined to win five Stanley Cups, one Conn Smythe Trophy, two Harts, six Vezinas, five Jennings and two Calders, and have made five Olympic teams. But as spectacular as Hasek is and as dominant as Joseph has been in the playoffs (an average of one shutout for every 9.4 games), a snapshot taken today would most flatter Kolzig, a.k.a. Godzilla. Since January he has put the thrilla back in Godzilla, making saves with the self-assuredness he had in 1998 when Washington reached the Cup finals. "Kolzig's proved himself all year," says John LeClair, a 40-goal scorer for the Flyers. "He's really quick for a big goalie."
6 Do the Blues have another gear?
There will come a moment during the playoffs when St. Louis will have to lift its play even beyond the level it attained in putting together the NHL's best record (51-20-11-1). In some way the Blues already have located that gear, going 15-7 in one-goal games, but they must do that in the crucible of spring.
St. Louis boasts Chris Pronger (right), who deserves to be this season's MVP, the NHL's hardest-working forwards and solid goaltending from Turek. But pitfalls abound. High-scoring Pavol Demitra is sidelined for most of the first round with a concussion, and the reconstitute Slovak Line, with Ladislav Nagy taking Demitra's place on the wing, has scored only one goal since his injury on March 24. While St. Louis has been built around a coterie of veterans such as Pronger, defenseman Al MacInnis and center Pierre Turgeon, it also depends on neophytes like Turek and forwards Nagy, Marty Reasoner, Lubos Bartecko and Michal Handzus. Turek is a goaltending oddity on two counts: It's unusual that a man his size (6'3") prefers to stand instead of dropping into the butterfly style, and he's a European who handles the puck well. During the season Turek was a model of calm, a disposition that might change—Game 1 against the San Jose Sharks on Wednesday will be his first playoff appearance. One final note of caution: In 1999-2000 the Blues, who in each of me last three years lost in the playoffs to the eventual Cup winner, had a combined 6-7-1-0 record against Dallas, Detroit and Colorado.
7 Which is the deepest team?
When the red wings won two straight Cups, in 1997 and '98, they were bolstered by shock troopers like Darren McCarty, who scored the fanciest goal in the '97 finals, against Philadelphia; Martin Lapointe, who had nine goals in 21 playoff games in '98; and Doug Brown (right) and Kris Draper, who had the tying and winning goals, respectively, in Game 2 against Washington that year. "If you look at the years in which we've had long runs, the scoring has come throughout the lineup," Detroit general manager Ken Holland says. "That's a piece of everyone's Stanley Cup puzzle." When the Wings flamed out in the second round last year, Steve Yzerman, Brendan Shanahan and Slava Kozlov accounted for 58% of their playoff goals.
Detroit should be bolstered by the first-round return, from a groin injury, of McCarty. The Wings have also been buoyed by the return to good health of Brent Gilchrist, a solid utility forward who had missed 153 games over the past three years with a series of ailments. The depth will benefit Detroit in the later rounds, if it gets there.
8 Can Dallas overcome the loss of defenseman Sergei Zubov?