by Greg Melikov - 05/01/2006
Detroit and Ottawa are favored to play for the Stanley Cup. They are the top seeds in the National Hockey League and almost equal betting favorites.
History is on the side of the Red Wings, about 4-1 in a consensus of several sportsbooks oddsmakers. Of the 21 trips to the finals, the team has carried home the cup 10 times. The Senators, 5-1, has captured the cup only once: 1926-27.
Detroit posted the NHL's best record, 58-16, successfully blending an aging core of players and a stellar group of youngsters. But the Red Wings must dispose of early round foes quickly so they can survive a possible grueling seven-game war in the finals.
Leader Steve Yzerman is playing like he did when the team won back-to-back cups starting in 96-97.
His 1,300th career point in the playoffs boosted him to second all-time on the team. Experiencing his first championship, the center was third in overall playoff points. The following year, the longtime Red Wings captain, 40, led playoff scoring with 24 points.
Nicklas Lidstrom, maybe the top NHL defenseman, dominates with quick puck movement and a dangerous point shot. At 35, he anchors the miserly defense while contributing offensively with 16 goals and 80 points.
Ottawa's strength is a balanced lineup of skaters. Forwards Daniel Alfredsson, Dany Heatley and Jason Spezza began the season on fire and kept on going while defensemen Wade Redden and Zdeno Chara were masterful.
However, the Senators could be vulnerable if goalie Dominik Hasek doesn't return from an injury that has plagued him the last several years.
The 41-year-old hasn't played since Feb. 15 when he strained a muscle in his left groin during the Czech Republic's 4-1 victory over Germany at the Winter Olympics.
The nagging groin injury, which required surgery, forced him to miss two seasons before being traded from Detroit to the Senators in the summer of '04.
There are several other clubs that have a chance to take the cup, first presented in 1893, that's the oldest and only sports trophy passed from player to player during the summer after their team wins it.
New Jersey and San Jose have the momentum. The Devils won their final 11 games of the season to take the Atlanta Division of the Eastern Conference. The Sharks finished strong, led by center Joe Thornton, 26, and right winger Jonathan Cheechoo, 25, ending up second behind Dallas in the Pacific Division of the Western Conference.
The Stars are a surprising 30-1 despite behind ranked no lower than fifth in several power rankings since March.
The offensive attack, powered by veterans such as center Jason Arnott who scored the game winner when New Jersey won its second cup in '00 defeating the Stars, established the franchise record for victories set during the '99 season - 53.
Buffalo Sabres, 8-1, sporting NHL's third-best power play success rate. While no rookie goaltender has been on a cup-winning team since Patrick Roy of the Montreal Canadiens in '86, Ryan Miller isn't the only inexperienced goalie in the playoffs.
Calgary Flames, 10-1, winning their first Northwest Division in 11 years. But the excellent defense can't carry the offensive load.
Anaheim Mighty Ducks, 10-1, third in the Pacific. Only a handful of players from the '03 team that fell one win short of a championship.