The speed of the
Ottawa Senators is overwhelming--a big reason that they had scored a
league-high 309 goals through Sunday. The health of defensemen Zdeno Chara
(recovering from a bruised right hand) and Chris Phillips (left-knee injury)
and goaltender Dominik Hasek (who has battled groin problems since he was
injured at the Olympics) will determine how far the Senators go.... The
Carolina Hurricanes' wide-open style--their 294 goals scored and 256 goals
allowed were both among the top two in the East--worked in the regular season.
But will it be effective in the tight-checking environment of the playoffs,
especially given the team's reliance on small players such as 5'10",
180-pound left wing Ray Whitney? Look for veteran center Doug Weight, a superb
playmaker, to be a game changer for the Hurricanes, particularly on the power
play.... Jaromir Jagr needs to continue to be an inspirational leader on and
off the ice for the New York Rangers, and role players such as forwards Dominic
Moore, Blair Betts and Jason Ward must maintain consistent on-ice work habits.
If the Rangers don't get a strong performance on face-offs from Steve Rucchin,
they could be in for a difficult ride in the playoffs.... The Buffalo Sabres
thrive on special teams because of their speed and their underrated talent.
Forward Ales Kotalik (above) is the most overlooked power-play weapon in the
league. His excellent hockey instincts and his heavy shot make him lethal on
the point.... The lack of speed on the Philadelphia Flyers' defense is glaring.
The team really needs Peter Forsberg (groin problems) to be fully healthy in
order for linemate Simon Gagn� (above), who has a team-high 46 goals, to
succeed at the high level the Flyers require. Philadelphia must improve on its
27th-ranked penalty killing to make a playoff run.... The New Jersey Devils
have become the most underrated offensive team in the league. An overhaul of
their system (they've become much more aggressive on the forecheck) has
enhanced the offensive abilities of small, skillful forwards such as Scott
Gomez, Brian Gionta and Patrik Elias. Rookie winger Zach Parise is rounding
into form at the right time, and 6'4", 215-pound Colin White (right) may be
the NHL's most improved defenseman.... The Tampa Bay Lightning, which was still
trying to lock down a playoff berth as of Monday night, has great firepower,
led by center Vincent Lecavalier. But goaltenders Sean Burke and John Grahame
need to be more consistent. And the Lightning misses defensemen Jassen
Cullimore and Brad Lukowich, both of whom left as free agents after playing key
roles on the 2003-04 Stanley Cup winners.