Four teams of the Apopsicle

By Kevin Rothbauer

Four is a simple number. If you were avoiding the NHL playoffs because you were confused, now is the time to pay attention. The Buffalo Sabres, Colorado Avalanche, Dallas Stars and Toronto Maple Leafs are all that’s left. The silver spittoon will soon belong to one of them.

Dallas vs. Colorado

The Avalanche need to solve Ed Belfour, which shouldn’t be a problem for the league’s deepest offence. The Stars should be tired now, considering it’s past bedtime at most Texas nursing homes.

None of Colorado’s lines can be overlooked. Even Dale Hunter (who wants a cup to legitimize a 19-year career), Warren Rychel (remember his heroics with the 1991 Blackhawks?) and Jeff Odgers are pretty capable.

The Stars aren’t that weak. They have solid forwards and a committed defence. But if the Avs can get past Detroit the Stars shouldn’t be too hard to finish off.

For Colorado to win, the forwards have to stay hot and the defense has to… uh, rely on Patrick Roy to stop pucks and clear the zone.

For Dallas to win, Joe Nieuwendyk and Mike Modano have to turn up the heat and Belfour has to match Roy-the best playoff goaltender in history-save-for-save.

Toronto vs. Buffalo

Speaking of playoff goaltenders; Curtis Joseph. The Leafs have little else to rely on. Only Lonny Bohonos has stepped up, and that’s after he beat up a rival coach following a minor league game. Maybe Mats Sundin needs to kick Lindy Ruffs’s rear.

As for the Sabres, goaltending is once again the key. Dominik Hasek appears unstoppable, but the same was true last year-until he came across the powerhouse Washington Capitals.

On offence, Mike Peca is at last proving Don Cherry correct, and Joe Juneau is almost the "Little Joe" who scored 102 points as a rookie.

For the Leafs to win, Joseph will have to stand up to the stampeding Buffalo forwards, while the Toronto forwards will have to score a bit more.

For the Sabres to advance, the offence will have to keep rolling and Hasek will have to be Hasek.

Look for a Colorado-Buffalo Stanley Cup final.

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