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Clash of the titans

OVERVIEW

This series feels more like a Western Conference finals than a first-round tilt. You need both hands, and a few toes, to count the All-Stars in this one. A shrewd coaching move and a late goal could be enough to swing this tight series.

FORWARDS

Two deep groups in this series. The Avs are really banged up but Peter Forsberg and Joe Sakic remain two of the three top centers you want most on your side in a playoff series; the other is the Stars' Mike Modano. Colorado hopes Teemu Selanne, who notched an NHL career-low 16 goals this season, somehow find his wheels. Watch for Bill Guerin to pot a game-winner for the Stars.

Advantage: Stars

DEFENSE

Colorado's Adam Foote and Rob Blake are shutdown-type defensemen. So is the Stars' Sergei Zubov. The depth of the Avalanche's unit is suspect, but the big two can take over a series.

Advantage: Avalanche

GOALIE

Since guiding Michigan to the NCAA crown in 1996 and '98, the Stars' Marty Turco has carried an aura of success. He succeeded Ed Belfour in Dallas last season and the Stars barely blinked, reaching deep into the second round of the playoffs. Now he has to prove he can win like Belfour in the postseason. Colorado's David Aebischer had an even taller order; stepping in this year to replace Patrick Roy. He's been solid, but he's no Turco.

Advantage: Stars

SPECIAL TEAMS

Both teams have terrific skill on the power play, but the Avalanche run deeper. They'll attack for the full two minutes, which will put pressure on the Stars' strong penalty killers.

Advantage: Avalanche

COACHING

Last year, the Avs' then-rookie coach Tony Granato was schooled in the first round by the Wild's Jacques Lemaire, as Minnesota pulled off a huge first-round upset of third-seeded Colorado. This year we'll see what Granato has learned. The Stars' Dave Tippett is thorough, determined and extremely knowledgeable. He was a key assistant for the Kings before coming to Dallas.

Advantage: Stars

INTANGIBLES

The Stars, and a rejuvenated Modano, have been red hot since January when owner Tom Hicks threatened an overhaul if the team didn't improve. The Avalanche have struggled to find their chemistry all year, combating injuries and some quietly disgruntled linemates.

Advantage: Stars

OVERALL

In a first round that is chock-a-block with great matchups, this might be the best of them all. Dallas has struggled on the road and it'll have to win a game in Denver early. They will. Dallas in six games.

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