KELLEY: Avs-Wings worthy of Cup final

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Jim Kelley

There isn't a person in hockey — perhaps except in the National Hockey League offices in New York — who doesn't think that the real Stanley Cup opens this weekend in Detroit. Even the New Yorkers must be tempted. The Detroit Red Wings, the winningest team in the NHL through the regular season against the Colorado Avalanche, the second-winningest team in the regular season and the defending Stanley Cup champions. Detroit's Dominik Hasek against Colorado's Patrick Roy in goal. Brett Hull and Steve Yzerman against Joe Sakic and Peter Forsberg up front. Two very solid defenses featuring Rob Blake and Adam Foote in Colorado and Chris Chelios and Nicklas Lidstrom for Detroit. Two Cup-winning coaches in Detroit's Scott Bowman and Colorado's Bob Hartley. Frankly, most everyone believes it doesn't get any better then this. We here at FOXSports.com agree. While the East will put up an interesting match between the Toronto Maple Leafs and the surprisingly efficient Carolina Hurricanes, the West matchup is likely to have the talent of an All-Star game and the competitive intensity of a Stanley Cup final. The series opens Saturday in Detroit with the Red Wings having home-ice advantage via their 116-point season. We were 1-1 in the East predictions, correctly selecting Toronto to win in seven games (they did) but missed on Carolina over Montreal. We did better in the West, predicting Detroit in six over St. Louis (they won it in five) and Colorado in seven against San Jose (which they did). What follows is a look at the Western matchup via strengths and weaknesses with an outlook and a prediction. The series is a best of seven in a 2-1-1-1-1 format. STRENGTHS: How many times do we have to say it, the Wings are loaded. They have a six-time Vezina and two-time Hart Trophy winner (league MVP) in Hasek in goal. The defense has two of the three finalists — Chelios and Lidstrom — for the Norris Trophy as the league's best defenseman. The forward ranks are peopled by future Hall of Famers like Steve Yzerman, Luc Robitaille, Hull and Brendan Shanahan. There is the necessary compliment of grinders, tough guys and role players. Coach Scott Bowman has eight Stanley Cups to his name and the organization is committed to nothing less than a ninth. Colorado counters with an All-Star lineup of its own including Sakic, Forsberg, defenseman Rob Blake and up-and-comers like Milan Hejduk, Alex Tanguay, Steve Reinprecht and Chris Drury. The Avs have plenty of toughness (defensemen Darius Kasparaitis and Foote), grit (veteran forward Mike Keane and Scott Parker) and reasonable depth. While the Avs were once known as an offensive team, they are much more complete defensively this season, having posted the lowest goals-against totals in the NHL in the regular season. There's also the indomitable Roy, four times a Cup champion and three times the winner of the Conn Smythe Trophy as the most valuable player in the playoffs. Coach Hartley is considerably younger than Bowman, but no less talented. He got the edge on Andy Murray in Los Angeles and San Jose's Darryl Sutter so far this season. He's beaten Bowman in the past and shows no fear of the Wings and their coaching legend. WEAKNESSES: Not many on either side. The Red Wings breezed through the regular season, winning almost at will. The few times they got in trouble were when teams tried to get overly physical or when they got a little sloppy in their own end. There were games when Hasek was completely off, including at least three in the playoffs, but he's always rebounded and was extremely focused when it mattered most. If there's concern about the age factor, it is reasonable. The Red Wings have 15 players who are 30 years old or older, the Avs have five. The Avs have at times had trouble scoring goals both at even strength and the power play. That's subsided a bit since Forsberg returned to the lineup for the playoffs after missing the entire regular season (foot and various injuries). Like the Red Wings, the Avs sometimes got a questionable game out of Roy on the odd night, but whenever he faltered, he quickly righted himself. The most recent example of this was a 1-0 shutout against San Jose in Game 7 Wednesday night. It's the second time in the playoffs that Roy and the Avs have won a seven-game series and the third in as many. They won the Stanley Cup in seven games last spring, ousting New Jersey after the Devils had taken a 3-2 series lead. Roy was a deciding factor each time. OUTLOOK: What a matchup: offense vs. defense, defense vs. offense, two exceptional talents in goal, two great coaches. The odds and the statistics favor the Red Wings, who are a tad deeper up front, but that could easily be offset by Colorado's nice mix of experience and young legs. We think this will come down to goaltending, and though both men are legendary in net, Roy still has the edge in Stanley Cup experience and seems, to us at least, to have the better temperament for the excruciating pressure to come. PREDICTION: Upset special, Colorado in six games. Jim Kelley can be reached at his e-mail address: jkelley@foxsports.com.
Tagged: Red Wings, Devils, Penguins, Avalanche, Blues, Maple Leafs, Dominik Hasek, Chris Chelios, Nicklas Lidstrom, Brendan Shanahan, Luc Robitaille, Steve Yzerman, Brett Hull, Joe Sakic, Rob Blake, Chris Drury, Adam Foote, Scott Parker, Alex Tanguay, Milan Hejduk

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