PLAYOFF SERIES: Western Conference quarterfinals, Game 1.
With a roster constructed specifically for a run in these playoffs, the Colorado Avalanche don’t exactly look up to the task yet.
The fourth-seeded Avalanche open their quarterfinal series against the Dallas Stars, who also struggled at the end of the season.
With labor problems looming that could lead to a canceled season in 2004-05, Avalanche general manager Pierre Lacroix made two bold moves during the offseason. He signed Paul Kariya and Teemu Selanne to one-year contracts, adding the star forwards to an already loaded Avalanche lineup with an eye on winning the Stanley Cup.
The Avs appeared to have an almost unstoppable group on paper, with Kariya and Selanne joining Joe Sakic, Peter Forsberg, Rob Blake, Alex Tanguay and Milan Hejduk, but the experiment has not translated as well as Lacroix had hoped.
Selanne slumped and had one of the worst seasons of his career, recording just 16 goals and 16 assists in 78 games. Kariya has had an even more frustrating season, enduring numerous injuries and playing only 51 games.
Kariya’s latest injury came at the worst possible time, as the left wing suffered a sprained ankle Sunday in the regular-season finale against Nashville. He is out indefinitely.
Despite the injuries and inconsistency, Colorado still finished with 100 points, but lost out on the Northwest Division title when it was passed by Vancouver late in the season.
Selanne and the rest of the Avs, though, say they’re ready to go.
“Everybody feels good about this team,” Selanne said. “We know how good we can be. Now, when every shift is going to matter, I’m expecting huge things from this team, from myself and from everybody.”
Sakic, the captain during both of Colorado’s Stanley Cup runs, says the Avs are only focused on the postseason.
“All year we’ve been looking forward to this moment,” Sakic said. “It starts fresh now. Everybody’s got to win 16 games to win the Stanley Cup. We have home ice right here and we have a good chance to rebound.”
All of Colorado’s star power won’t matter, however, unless David Aebischer does his best Patrick Roy impression in net. Aebischer, the fourth-year goaltender who took over following Roy’s offseason retirement, had a breakout season with 32 wins and a 2.09 goals-against average.
Colorado did get some good news on the injury front Monday, learning that Tanguay, sidelined by a knee injury for the final 11 regular-season games, could be ready for Wednesday’s game. Center Andrei Nikolishin and defenseman Kurt Sauer could also be back for Game 1.
Dallas also slumped somewhat before the playoffs, going 1-2-0-2 to close the season following a six-game unbeaten streak (5-0-1). The Stars will have to overcome Colorado’s home-ice advantage, a factor that could be very significant considering Dallas was just 15-19-5-2 on the road, compared to 26-7-8-0 at the American Airlines Center.
The Avs, though, were a much better road team this season, going 21-8-7-5 as compared to 19-14-6-0 in Denver.
“It’s going to be a great series. If you’re to get started and have a wake-up call in the first round of the playoffs, certainly that’s the team that you’ll get it from,” Dallas captain Mike Modano said.
The Stars were the NHL’s top defensive team this season, allowing a league-low 175 goals. That was due in large part to goalie Marty Turco, who had a career-high 37 wins, nine shutouts and a 1.98 GAA.
Turco returned from a four-game high-sticking suspension in Dallas’ season finale. Ron Tugnutt started while Turco was out, and the Stars lost all four games, including two in overtime.
“It’s a different game when he’s out there,” Modano said of Turco.
Colorado’s defense will be focused on keeping physical Dallas forwards Bill Guerin, Jason Arnott and Brendan Morrow, who combined for 60 goals this season, away from the front of Aebischer’s net. Modano, Pierre Turgeon and Valeri Bure give the Stars speed to go with the physical aspect of their offense.
The Stars and Avalanche have met twice in the postseason, both times in the conference finals, with Dallas winning seven-game series in 1999 and 2000.
Game 2 is Friday night at the Pepsi Center.
HOW THEY GOT HERE: Stars - 97 points, 5th seed. Avalanche - 100 points, 4th seed.
SPECIAL TEAMS: Stars - Power play: 15.9 percent (52 for 328), 18th in NHL. Penalty killing: 85.9 percent (267 for 311), 4th. Avalanche - Power play: 20.4 percent (74 for 363), 3rd. Penalty killing: 83.8 percent (299 for 357), 16th.
GOALTENDERS: Stars - Turco (37-21-13, 9 SO, 1.98 GAA); Tugnutt (3-7-0, 1, 2.41). Avalanche - Aebischer (32-19-9, 4, 2.09); Tommy Salo (18-21-7, 3, 2.56).
REGULAR SEASON SERIES: Avalanche, 3-1. Aebischer started all four games and allowed just three goals in winning the first three matchups, including a 29-save, 3-0 victory in the first meeting Nov. 15. Turco struggled against the Avs, giving up 11 goals in the three defeats before making 15 saves in a 5-1 win on Feb. 20. Tanguay had three goals and two assists for Colorado, while Arnott recorded a hat trick in the final meeting and had four goals and an assist in the series.