Who can beat the Red Wings? Nobody played them better than the lowly Calgary Flames, who won three of four from Detroit during the regular season. Alas, the Flames will be watching the playoffs on TV. But we say one of these six playoff teams has a fighting chance to smash the Motown machine.
With Olympic Gold-ie Martin Brodeur in the net, the Devs always have a chance. Top-of-the-box PKers John Madden, Jay Pandolfo, Patrik Elias and Sergei Brylin can disrupt power-play QB Nicklas Lidstrom. Big C Bobby Holik will enjoy irritating Dominik Hasek by skating through his crease. Ex-Stars Joe Nieuwendyk and Jamie Langenbrunner bring
skill, grit and an intimate knowledge of the Wings. Smooth-skating D-men Brian Rafalski and Scott Niedermayer make the Devs tough to forecheck.
The upstart Coyotes have three aces going for them against the Wings. First, their young legs will wear on Detroit's old wheels. Second, they'll be looser than oversize jeans on Ja Rule. And third, they have hot G Sean Burke, who stopped 74 of 78 shots in two regular-season games against the Red Wings. Kid F's Daymond Langkow, Ladislav Nagy and Daniel Briere are better than when the teams last met on Jan. 25. And remember, Wing-hating RW Claude Lemieux now resides in the desert.
Under ultra-intense head coach Darryl Sutter, the Sharks are a very nasty playoff team. They play a heavy game, and their hard-charging Fs -- like Owen Nolan, Mike Ricci and Scott Thornton -- love nothing more than to repeatedly drive opposing Ds into the end boards. Ouch! If the Wings don't get the early edge in a series vs. the Sharks, they may be too beat-up to finish them off. And, as a heavily favored Detroit team found out in 1994, the Shark Tank can be a very unpleasant place to visit.
Hey, they beat them last year, right? Of course, Felix Potvin again will have to be sharp in goal. Their no-name D (Mattias Norstrom, Aaron Miller, Mathieu Schneider, Jaroslav Modry and Philippe Boucher) can put the breaks on the Wings attack. The Kings PK is strong enough, even on the road, to survive Motown's potent power play. LA is very dangerous with the man advantage, especially when C Jason Allison sets up behind the cage. The Wings PKers aren't as good when facing their net.
The Avs have clipped the rival Wings in three of their four previous playoff meetings, including the last two. So they won't be intimidated. Up front, the return of C Peter Forsberg will make it
tougher for Scotty Bowman's boys to gang up on
C Joe Sakic. Legendary G Patrick Roy provides
the defending champs with supreme confidence
in their own end. Rugged defensemen Rob Blake, Adam Foote and Darius Kasparaitis will make it tough (and painful) to get near St. Patrick.
The B's talented group of forwards, led by RW Bill Guerin, C Joe Thornton and LW Sergei Samsonov, has the ability to expose the Wings top-heavy D. Oversized Fs like Glen Murray, ex-Wing Martin Lapointe and Jozef Stumpel, along with Guerin and Thornton, can provide heavy traffic in front
of Dominik Hasek. The strong Bruins penalty-killing unit, anchored by G Byron Dafoe, can nullify Detroit's powerful PP. C Brian Rolston (9 SHGs) can ground the Wings when they're on the power play.
This article appears in the April 29 issue of ESPN The Magazine.