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Don't discount surging Stars

By DAMIAN CRISTODERO

© St. Petersburg Times, published April 8, 2001


WASHINGTON -- Thinking about the Avalanche, Devils or Red Wings as potential Stanley Cup champions? Well, don't forget the Stars.

Coach Ken Hitchcock has Dallas primed to make its third consecutive appearance in the final.

The Stars, who were champs in 1998-99 and fell to the Devils last season, were 9-0-3 in 12 games heading into Saturday night's finale against the Sharks. In 10 of those games, the opposition scored one goal or fewer.

Hitchcock said the key is attention to detail.

"All these things that add up to wins -- line changes, physical play, protecting the puck in critical areas, strong communication in your own zone -- these are the areas that are important to us," the coach said.

"My experience has been, when you get away from them, you just don't snap back right away. You just can't turn it on and say, "Okay, it's the playoffs. We're going to do all these detail things.' "

The Stars also can count on a rejuvenated Mike Modano, who had 33 goals and 50 assists and finally has cracked the top 25 in scoring.

"Mentally (preparing) is the big thing for me, and once that goes, you seem to be out of it physically," he said. "When this time of year comes around, it's exciting. When you get that taste of winning, you want to keep getting back there. You really try to focus on your game and what you need to be doing."

WINGIN' IT: Despite long-term injuries to Steve Yzerman, Chris Chelios and Darren McCarty, the Red Wings have bettered last season's total of 108 points.

"It says a lot about the guys who have stepped in and played well," said Martin Lapointe, who has a career-high 27 goals. "We haven't let the injuries slow us down." Heading into Saturday night's game against the Avalanche, Detroit had an 18-game unbeaten streak at Joe Louis Arena (16-0-2), tying a team record.

GAMBLIN': The Avalanche, secure as the league's No. 1 team, pulled Patrick Roy during overtime of Wednesday's 1-1 tie with the Mighty Ducks in an attempt to get Roy his 40th victory.

The plan almost backfired when Anaheim's Jeff Friesen hit the post with four seconds left. Had the Ducks won with Roy on the bench, the Avs would have lost their point for the regulation tie.

"I don't think Bob had much of a choice," Colorado defenseman Adam Foote said of coach Bob Hartley. "He could definitely have told us no way, but all the boys on the bench were saying, "C'mon, pull him.' So we had fun with it."

AMAZING RECOVERY: Carolina's Glen Wesley missed only 11 games with a broken jaw sustained March 4 when he skated facefirst into an open penalty box door in Chicago. Not that there weren't some concerns.

"I have to let it go," Wesley said. "My wife said, "I was so worried when you skated by a penalty box.' Hopefully, it will never happen in this league again."

FOR SALE: A group headed by Alan P. Cohen, CEO of a Fort Lauderdale-based generic drugmaker, is negotiating to buy the Panthers. Former NFL quarterback Bernie Kosar is involved, and Dan Marino has been approached about buying a share.

Forbes magazine values the team at $146-million.

ODDS AND ENDS: Jay Sharrers, 33, became the NHL's first black referee when he worked Tuesday's Flyers-Panthers game. ... Devils goaltender Martin Brodeur is one of three goalies to have three 40-win seasons. The others are Hall of Famers Jacques Plante and Terry Sawchuck. ... With the Coyotes out of the playoffs, Claude Lemieux's streak of post-season fun is over at 16. ... How dumb are the Flames? Calgary pushed young star Jarome Iginla to be more aggressive. Iginla went out and broke his hand in a fight with Dallas' Brendan Morrow. ... Wild rookie Marian Gaborik, the team's leading scorer, has an abdominal strain that may be very serious. He said the pain goes down his side into his groin.

- Information from other news organizations was used in this report.

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