Volume 96, Issue 98
Thursday, April 3, 2003

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Sens book early tee times

By James Gibson
Gazette Writer

This year's Eastern Conference is about as wide open as The Spoke's dance floor on a Tuesday night. Teams including the Leafs, Senators, Devils, Capitals and Flyers all have legitimate shots at winning the conference.

Ottawa Senators: The only thing the Senators have been good at in the playoffs is leaving early. However, they are still entering the post-season as the top team in the East. The addition of Vaclav Varada adds some grit to a team that, in previous years, hasn't cut it physically. Ottawa definitely has the skill to score goals, but how will they hold up in the physically-demanding battle of the playoffs?

New Jersey Devils: The Devils are always a threat in the playoffs. They possess arguably the league's best goaltender in Martin Brodeur, who is always a game breaker. The line of Patrick Elias, Scott Gomez and Brian Gionta is tearing it up just in time for the playoffs. But, when it comes down to the wire, the team's playoff dreams rest on the shoulders of Brodeur.

Tampa Bay Lightning: Rising star Vincent Lecavalier has had a breakout season, along with Martin St. Louis. These two add some offensive depth to the Lightning. Tampa did not make any real deals at the trading deadline, and their lack of playoff experience leads many to believe that they won't make much of a splash in this year's playoff pool.

Philadelphia Flyers: The Flyers are a very tough team with many proven playoff performers. Reuniting Tony Amonte with his old Blackhawk buddy Jeremy Roenick seems to have added the scoring spark Philly lacked in last year's playoffs when they scored a measly two goals in five games against Ottawa. Undeniably, the Flyers' fate lies in the hands of inexperienced playoff goaltender Roman Cechmanek.

Toronto Maple Leafs: Adversity is the Leafs' middle name, and they enter the playoffs short six team regulars due to injury. Trade deadline addition Owen Nolan brings another level of depth to an already potent Leafs offence. Ed Belfour adds copious amounts of playoff experience that Curtis Joseph did not. Look for the Leafs to win the East.

Washington Capitals: The Caps are one of the strongest teams in the conference offensively, but lack toughness. For Washington to make it past the second round they must dig down deep and find their physical game.

Boston Bruins: Too much drama seems to have hurt the playoff hopes of the Bruins. They have played four different goaltenders and had two head coaches this year. Forwards Joe Thornton and Glen Murray are the only thing the Bruins have going for them. To make it past the first round, Boston fans must pray for a miracle.

New York Islanders: Despite just barely sneaking into the post-season, the rough, gritty Islanders have a good chance of upsetting Ottawa in the first round. The acquisition of veteran defenceman Janne Niinimaa and the breakout season of Dave Scatchard certainly add to their playoff hopes.



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