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So what's next for the Avalanche?

After getting swept out of the playoffs for the first time since leaving Quebec, there are sure to be questions. Will Rob Blake, an unrestricted free agent, return for another season in Colorado? What about Joe Sakic, the team's other big UFA?

Blake says he wants to return, but will explore his options. Those options are likely to include a return to Los Angeles, where he maintains his offseason home, or signing with Toronto. He also owns a home in Simcoe, Ontario.

The acquisition of goalie Jose Theodore complicates matters. He is owed more than $11 million next season, and even with an anticipated boost in the NHL's $39 million salary cap, that's a big chunk of available capital.

Can Colorado afford Blake while also re-signing Sakic, the team's heart and soul, who is making close to $7 million this season?

In forecasting this team's future, it's important to put this semifinal exit in its proper context. Colorado was bounced by the league's hottest team and the hottest goalie in these playoffs.

The Avs went 0-for-24 on the power play but were without Marek Svatos, a rookie who scored 12 power-play goals (32 total) in 61 games before suffering a season-ending shoulder injury. Left wing Alex Tanguay was never healthy in the series, too.

Svatos is one of the game's top young snipers, defenseman John Micheal-Liles is a budding star and 19-year-old Wojtek Wolski is an intriguing forward prospect. Figuring Blake leaving and Sakic re-upping as a worst-case scenario, Colorado will still have plenty of weapons.

Theodore is the big question mark. If he returns to form and has a healthy 2006-07, the Avalanche look set to rebound from this early exit. If he continues to struggle with health and inconsistency, then the Avs have themselves a two-year salary cap nightmare.

THIRD STAR OF THE DAY

You think Ottawa goalie Ray Emery felt a little pressure Thursday? He needed a win to stave off a sweep, Dominik Hasek participated in the morning skate – the Dominator ruled himself out for Game 4, but could still be a factor in this series – and his coach Bryan Murray made a point of saying the team just needed that one extra save from its goalie. He did make that extra save Thursday. Emery turned aside 29 of the 30 shots he faced, and he came up big when tested late, most notably when he robbed Game 3 hero J.P. Dumont with just 70 seconds left in regulation. This was easily Emery's best game of the series. The only question: Does he still have a job?

SECOND STAR OF THE DAY

The old man of Anaheim's No. 2 line at 32 years of age, Todd Marchant showed plenty of jump in this series. He got the Ducks on the board in Game 4 with his first goal of the playoffs, then added an assist and an empty-net goal in the third period to seal the victory. Marchant's line combined for 18 points in the series and he played an integral role in the Mighty Ducks' penalty kill.

FIRST STAR OF THE DAY

Anaheim coach Randy Carlyle called out his top line prior to Game 4 and Teemu Selanne responded with a goal, but once again it was his second line that keyed a Mighty Ducks win. Dustin Penner gift-wrapped a goal for Marchant with a perfect centering pass that led to Anaheim's first goal, then received a feed from Marchant and beat Jose Theodore for an insurance goal in the third period. Penner, a rookie, finished the four-game series with a goal, five assists and a plus-7 rating.

MINOR PENALTY

Buffalo forward Derek Roy has all kinds of skill. He also has a flair for the dramatic, and it's that "talent" that is quickly earning him a reputation as a diver. Peter Schaefer definitely got a stick on Roy after the whistle at 12:05 of the third period. Would Roy have drawn a penalty if he hadn't dressed it up with a little theatrics? It's tough to say, but referee Kerry Fraser didn't appreciate the act, so he sent Roy off for diving while also calling the cross-check on Schaefer. It was Roy's second trip to the penalty box for diving this postseason.

The NHL will no doubt revisit the issue of diving when fine-tuning the rulebook this summer. With more and more stick infractions being called, players have extra incentive to embellish plays. Why not risk an unsportsmanlike penalty when you can draw four hooking calls for every one time you're caught diving? Roy was also called for a trip – this one earned, not choreographed – that led to Ottawa's game-winning power-play goal. Not his best performance.

MAJOR PENALTY

Anaheim's Scott Niedermayer is one heck of a penalty killer. He and his Anaheim mates deserve all kinds of credit for neutralizing the Colorado power play. But c'mon, no goals in 24 power-play chances? The Avs kept talking about the need to pressure goalie Ilya Bryzgalov with pucks and traffic in front of the net, but they never delivered. Even when Niedermayer was sent off for two minutes Thursday, presumably neutralizing the Mighty Ducks' best penalty killing asset, the most promising scoring chance to develop was a Todd Marchant shorthanded breakaway.

WHAT TO WATCH FOR FRIDAY

Game 5: San Jose Sharks at Edmonton Oilers – The Oilers let it all out in Game 3. They out-hit the Sharks 38-17, they out-shot the Sharks 13-0 to start the game and, in the end, prevailed on Shawn Horcoff's goal in the third overtime. San Jose took Edmonton's best and nearly won it when Jonathan Cheechoo got free in overtime, only to be robbed by Dwayne Roloson. An amazing level of speed and intensity has been carried by both teams throughout this series. Expect another one-goal game unless one team comes out flat after Wednesday's gut-check.

HIGHLIGHT OF THE NIGHT Watch

Great puck movement by Buffalo set up a glorious scoring chance for Dumont with just 70 seconds left in Game 4. But Ray Emery, who you can hear early in the highlight package being taunted by Buffalo fans, denied Dumont the tying goal with perhaps the best of his 29 saves.