Playoff Fever

by Chris Maugeri

Every year, as the regular season comes to a close, the NHL playoffs begin to heat up. The championship is up for grabs, as the top 16 teams in the league battle it out for the right to place their names on Lord Stanley's Cup. The champions will tally 16 victories in four, 7-game series against some of the most feared NHL opponents. Which teams have what it takes to celebrate win number 16 and secure the most coveted trophy in all of sports?

Let's start out in the east, which sees the New Jersey Devils as the favorites to emerge from this conference and defend their Stanley Cup. If you're looking for a weakness on this team, you won't find it. Comprising arguably the best line in hockey, Patrik Elias, Jason Arnott, and Petr Sykora are an absolute nightmare to play against. In addition, Alexander Mogilny has been on a tear the entire season. Mogilny and Sergei Brylin, centered by Scott Gomez, make up an excellent second line, which gives the Devils an extremely balanced attack. On defense, Scott Stevens just seems to get better with age. Brian Rafalski and Scott Niedermayer add a great deal of offense to a team that already has two 40-goal scorers in its lineup. At the most important position in hockey, is one of the best in the business. Goaltender, Martin Brodeur, hopes to lead New Jersey to its second straight Stanley Cup, as he turned in yet another stellar season.

The Buffalo Sabres have always thrived themselves on defense, and at the trade deadline they added some scoring punch. Steve Heinze and Donald Audette, formerly of the Columbus Blue Jackets and the Atlanta Thrashers, respectively, are two crafty veterans the Sabres acquired to bolster their offense. Now with a solid offensive attack and smothering defense, to compliment a possible MVP candidate in goal with Dominik Hasek, look for Buffalo to be one of the main contenders in the Eastern Conference.

Heading over to the west, it's hard to argue that the Colorado Avalanche will fail in becoming Western Conference champs this year. Fifty-goal scorer and team captain Joe Sakic leads the charge for Colorado, but is not alone. Peter Forsberg, Milan Hejduk, and Chris Drury are three players with unlimited offensive ability, and it doesn't stop there. Defenseman, Rob Blake, acquired earlier this year from Los Angeles, and long-time Bruins great, Ray Bourque, contribute to the scoring on a nightly basis. The number of all-stars on this team is truly baffling, however, there is still one more. Possibly the greatest goaltender ever, Patrick Roy has been simply dominating once again this year. The weapons this team possesses, both offensively and defensively, is scary. If an opposing team is not at the peak of its game, a 4-game sweep could be in order. Look out Western Conference - just try not to embarrass yourself.

The St. Louis Blues struggled mightily the last few weeks of the regular season, but still have an extremely talented team. With offensive threats, perhaps only surpassed by Colorado, the Blues are highly skilled in virtually every facet of the game. Pierre Turgeon, Scott Young, and Keith Tkachuk, acquired from Phoenix at the trade deadline, supply a good portion of the offense, while reigning MVP Chris Pronger, and winner of countless hardest shot competitions, Al MacInnis lead the defensive unit for St Louis.

This is what it all comes down to, as the best teams in the league go head to head with very little room for error. While upsets are always a possibility, there are two teams who rise above the rest. Before moving to New Jersey, The Devils were known as the Colorado Rockies. After losing the Rockies to New Jersey, it took almost two decades for the fans of Colorado to see hockey in their hometown once again. The continued failure of the Quebec Nordiques forced the franchise to relocate. The Colorado Avalanche was the new team that was formed through the Quebec organization. With the unlimited offense and suffocating defense that the Devils and Avalanche possess, something has to give. Does it really get any better than a Martin Brodeur versus Patrick Roy match-up? If these two teams are to meet in the finals, expect for one of the greatest Stanley Cup Finals in the history of the NHL to take place.