1. Can young Detroit forwards Pavel Datsyuk, 24, and Henrik Zetterberg, 22, continue their stellar play for the defending champs under postseason pressure?
Datsyuk, Zetterberg and irrepressible 38-year-old Brett Hull made up the Red Wings' most dynamic line in the second half of the season (98 points in 30 games). Datsyuk established a modest playoff pedigree as a rookie last season with a game-winner and two other goals, while Zetterberg finished this year with a flourish, leading NHL first-year players in goals (22) and points (44). Also, Zetterberg was a revelation for Sweden in the 2002 Olympics, which will provide a solid base for his first Cup experience. Because Detroit also features star forwards Sergei Fedorov and Brendan Shanahan, the Hull-Datsyuk-Zetterberg line has the benefit of seldom facing a No. 1 defensive pair.
2. Is there a low-seeded sleeper that could make a bona fide run to the Stanley Cup finals?
Over the past seven years, six franchises have represented the East in the Cup finals, many of them flawed teams that rode momentum and some lucky breaks before being knocked out by a Western Conference powerhouse. The Eastern club to watch this year is fifth-seeded Toronto. The Leafs are loaded, with high-rent center Mats Sundin, stellar goaltending from Ed Belfour, who won the Cup with the Stars in 1999, and conspicuous toughness. Toronto improved itself before the trade deadline by picking up hard-nosed forward Owen Nolan and veteran defenseman Phil Housley. ( Forward Doug Gilmour and defenseman Glen Wesley were also acquired at the deadline but are sidelined for at least the beginning of the first round with injuries.)
3. Is Ottawa finally tough enough?
One coach recently called the Senators, who have been physically overwhelmed and bounced out of the playoffs for the last three years by the Maple Leafs, a "sissy team." The acquisition of irritating forward Vaclav Varada and the emergence of 6'9", 255-pound defenseman Zdeno Chara have given Ottawa a get-your-nose-dirty approach. Ottawa would also benefit if star forwards Marian Hossa (five goals in 26 playoff games) and Radek Bonk (three in 36) can fight through checks and get to the net.
4. Is Dallas healthy enough for the two-month grind?
Among this team's plethora of key injuries—forward Bill Guerin's right thigh surgery, forward Pierre Turgeon's broken left ankle and defenseman Philippe Boucher's so-called "upper-body injury"—the most significant is Guerin's. The right wing, who has averaged a point per game in his past two playoffs, won't be back until at least midway through the first round. Center Mike Modano, who suffered what was described as a "lower-body injury" last week but who played on Sunday, also bears watching to see if he's at full strength. Fortunately for the Stars, goaltender Marty Turco appears healthy after returning on March 23 from a right ankle sprain that sidelined him for 18 games.