One man's opinion on how the first-round playoffs will go.
--No. 8 Senators vs. No. 1 Devils: New Jersey's hard-hitting
defensive pair of Scott Stevens and Lyle Odelein will be matched
against Ottawa's best player, Alexei Yashin--expect him to take
a pounding. The Senators' smallish backline will have a
difficult time containing powerful center Bobby Holik, who
should have a strong series. To win, Ottawa must capitalize on
its power-play chances, but the Senators succeeded on just 12.8%
of those opportunities in the regular season. Pick: Devils in six.
--No. 7 Canadiens vs. No. 2 Penguins: Look for Montreal to
devise a five-man system to stop the Jagr-Francis-Barnes line.
Canadiens penalty killers were ranked 16th in the league, and
taking penalties against Pittsburgh's potent power play will be
suicide. Montreal's ability to beat the trap and its strong play
on the road (22-15-4) will tip the series its way. Pick:
Canadiens in seven.
--No. 6 Sabres vs. No. 3 Flyers: Expect big-time hits and
titanic battles in the slot. The matchup to watch: Philadelphia
center Eric Lindros against Buffalo defenseman Bob Boughner. The
Sabres have the clear advantage in goal with Dominik Hasek, but
Philly has the home ice and can make it the key to this series.
Pick: Flyers in seven.
--No. 5 Bruins vs. No. 4 Capitals: Boston coach Pat Burns works
hard for matchups and Washington coach Ron Wilson doesn't, so
look for the Bruins' checking line of Tim Taylor, Rob DiMaio and
P.J. Axelsson opposite 52-goal scorer Peter Bondra. The big
difference is experience--Washington has it, Boston doesn't.
Pick: Capitals in six.
--No. 8 Sharks vs. No. 1 Stars: San Jose was 2-2 against Dallas
this season because it played in-your-face hockey. Both are
veteran teams, but how the younger Sharks hold up under playoff
pressure may determine the outcome. San Jose will put up a
better fight than most observers think. Pick: Stars in six.
--No. 7 Oilers vs. No. 2 Avalanche: For excitement this will be
the best first-round series. Speed, speed and more speed, with
no trapping, no clutching and no grabbing. Colorado must play
strong transition defense, or Edmonton's rushing defensemen,
Boris Mironov, Roman Hamrlik and Janne Niinimaa,will have a big
series. Oiler Curtis Joseph and Avalanche Patrick Roy will have
to be sharp in goal because their teams will trade rushes. Big
guns Joe Sakic and Peter Forsberg better be 100% healthy or
Colorado may take an early vacation. Pick: Avalanche in seven.
--No. 6 Coyotes vs. No. 3 Red Wings: Defending champion Detroit
has depth, chemistry, a solid system and the best coach in
hockey history, Scotty Bowman. Phoenix has a lot of skill but
doesn't play well as a team. The Coyotes are also thin on
defense, and their best backliner, Teppo Numminen, will be
forechecked fiercely. Pick: Red Wings in six.
--No. 5 Kings vs. No. 4 Blues: This series pits size (Los
Angeles) against speed (St. Louis). Look for the Blues to step
up the tempo and attack the Kings' questionable defense. Chris
Pronger and St. Louis's solid backline will suffocate L.A.'s top
scorers, center Jozef Stumpel and right wing Glen Murray. Pick:
Blues in five.
Pierre McGuire coached the Hartford Whalers in 1993-94.