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Original Issue

The Fast Will Flourish

SI's Pierre McGuire says team speed and the efforts of underrated players could be the decisive factors

The speed of theOttawa Senators is overwhelming--a big reason that they had scored aleague-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 wasinjured at the Olympics) will determine how far the Senators go.... TheCarolina Hurricanes' wide-open style--their 294 goals scored and 256 goalsallowed 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 superbplaymaker, to be a game changer for the Hurricanes, particularly on the powerplay.... Jaromir Jagr needs to continue to be an inspirational leader on andoff the ice for the New York Rangers, and role players such as forwards DominicMoore, 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 Sabresthrive on special teams because of their speed and their underrated talent.Forward Ales Kotalik (above) is the most overlooked power-play weapon in theleague. His excellent hockey instincts and his heavy shot make him lethal onthe point.... The lack of speed on the Philadelphia Flyers' defense is glaring.The team really needs Peter Forsberg (groin problems) to be fully healthy inorder for linemate Simon Gagné (above), who has a team-high 46 goals, tosucceed at the high level the Flyers require. Philadelphia must improve on its27th-ranked penalty killing to make a playoff run.... The New Jersey Devilshave become the most underrated offensive team in the league. An overhaul oftheir system (they've become much more aggressive on the forecheck) hasenhanced the offensive abilities of small, skillful forwards such as ScottGomez, Brian Gionta and Patrik Elias. Rookie winger Zach Parise is roundinginto form at the right time, and 6'4", 215-pound Colin White (right) may bethe NHL's most improved defenseman.... The Tampa Bay Lightning, which was stilltrying to lock down a playoff berth as of Monday night, has great firepower,led by center Vincent Lecavalier. But goaltenders Sean Burke and John Grahameneed to be more consistent. And the Lightning misses defensemen JassenCullimore and Brad Lukowich, both of whom left as free agents after playing keyroles on the 2003-04 Stanley Cup winners.