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Avalanche rule Western Conference
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Avalanche rule Western Conference
By Ryan Dixon
Four of the last six Stanley Cup winners have come from the Western Conference. That is a trend that should continue this year. Here it is, the story of how the West will be won, or lost, depending where your loyalties lay.
The cream of the crop reside in the Rocky Mountains. The Colorado Avalanche will win their division, conference and most likely the Stanley Cup too. No team blends talented youth with valuable play-off veterans like the Avalanches. Centre Peter Forsberg is the best two way player in the league. Defenseman Ray Bourque is thirsting for a drink from the cup and goalie Patrick Roy feels he has something to prove, which is when he is most dangerous. Throw in speedy forwards Chris Drury and Milan Hejduk and you have a formula for success.
Look for the St. Louis Blues to follow last year's first overall finish with another strong campaign. Coach Joel Quenneville has his players believing in his system and playing hard for each other. The Blues boast the best blue liner in the game in captain Chris Pronger. Along side Pronger on the 'D' is big shot Al MacInnis, free agent Sean Hill and the young Mike Van Ryn, a guy the Blues believe can be a star in the future. Goalie Roman Turek had a remarkable season last year, even though he did not shine in the play-offs.
If not for the tough road through the Western Conference, the Dallas Stars may well have repeated last year. The Stars are getting a little old, but still shine bright on most nights. Centre Mike Modano has emerged as a brilliant two way force, winger Brett Hull found his touch in the play-offs and goalie Ed Belfour is playing the best he has in his distinguished career. Unlike past summers the Stars have not added any high profile unrestricted free agents, but the addition of a dependable in forward Shaun Van Allen should help compensate for the loss of wily veteran centre Guy Carbonneau.
Rounding out the quartet of contenders in the West is Scotty Bowman's bunch the Detroit Red Wings. Now, two years removed from winning the big prize, the Wings are gearing up for one more kick at the can before they begin to dismantle the 90's most successful group. For this team to go all the way a few things must happen: Centre Sergei Federov must play up to his enormous potential to ease the loss of Igor Larionov and take some of the pressure off dependable Steve Yzerman. Chris Osgood must play like an elite goalie, despite the fact no matter what he does he will never be recognized as one. Bowman must also give some of his vets like Yzerman and defenseman Chris Chelios some time off, too ensure they still have something left in the tank come April.
Look for the Phoenix Coyotes to howl this year with the return of goalie Nikolai Khabibulin. Perhaps they can even manage to win their first play-off series since 1987. If the San Jose Sharks can get forward Owen Nolan signed they could make some noise. The Los Angeles Kings, led by tower of power defenseman Rob Blake, will be the fourth Pacific division team to make the big dance.
Carrying the flag for Canada will be the Vancouver Canucks. Ready to leave the 'mess' of the past three years behind, goalie Felix Potvin and emerging force, winger Todd Bertuzzi will lead Vancouver to the post season.
Sorry Alberta, but their will be no spring fun for Calgary or Edmonton. The Mighty Ducks of Anaheim will not have any Disney magic this year, Minnesota will be lost in the wild, Columbus will have their coach wearing a straight jacket, Chicago will be blown away and Nashville will have enough sorrow to fill a country album.