By DAMIAN CRISTODERO
© St. Petersburg Times, published May 12, 2001
PLAYOFFS: Devils beat the Hurricanes 4-2 and Maple Leafs 4-3; Penguins beat the Capitals 4-2 and Sabres 4-3.
SEASON SERIES: Penguins 3-1-1.
THE LOWDOWN: The Devils are playing their best hockey since the first three games against Carolina, and the line of Patrik Elias, Jason Arnott and Petr Sykora is on fire. Look for New Jersey to dump the puck into the offensive zone instead of carrying it in as it did against the Maple Leafs. The Penguins have found a better balance between the defensive posture that carried the Capitals series and the offensive play that marked the regular season.
KEYS TO VICTORY: Devils -- Defense must not let Mario Lemieux or Jaromir Jagr breathe, return to form the power play that was No. 1 during the regular season. Penguins -- Rookie goaltender Johan Hedberg must continue playing like a veteran; second line of Martin Straka, Alexei Kovalev and Robert Lang must take pressure off Lemieux and Jagr.
DAMIAN CRISTODERO'S PREDICTION: Devils in six.
PLAYOFFS: Avalanche beat the Canucks 4-0 and Kings 4-3; Blues beat the Sharks 4-2 and Stars 4-0.
SEASON SERIES: Avalanche 2-0-1-1.
THE LOWDOWN: Colorado is without Peter Forsberg, who had his spleen removed, and MVP candidate Joe Sakic's shoulder may hurt more than the Avs say. Either way, the Blues, the only team to look consistently committed to the cause through the first two rounds, have a huge advantage. They also have a hot goaltender in Roman Turek. How the long layoff affects them remains to be seen.
KEYS TO VICTORY: Avalanche -- Wing Chris Drury must fill Forsberg's shoes as second-line center, rejuvenate the power play, goaltender Patrick Roy must stop allowing soft goals. Blues -- Blanket Sakic, hope Keith Tkachuk continues his inspired play, speed merchants Marty Reasoner and Cory Stillman must pressure Colorado's defense.
DAMIAN CRISTODERO'S PREDICTION: Blues in seven.
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