Say this for the NHL: It is beyond embarrassment. Despite past
mandates from the league office to come down hard on the
obstruction fouls that have constipated the game for almost a
decade, the officials' resolve usually weakens by Christmas. Last
month commissioner Gary Bettman called a meeting with all the
teams, explained how strictly the rules would be enforced and
promised a crackdown. The proof, however, will not come in
October but in June, when the stakes are highest.

If referees drop the hammer on hooking and holding, and if the
preseason parade to the penalty box continues unabated, the
Stanley Cup will be won by a team with speed and a premier power
play. Factor in the new hurry-up face-off rule, which will help
increase the tempo, and the odds shift even more favorably to a
speedy club that plays four lines and can count on a third
defensive pair. All those changes should tip the balance in
favor of the Colorado Avalanche, who have everything. By June
that will include the Stanley Cup.

How They'll Finish

EASTERN CONFERENCE

ATLANTIC DIVISION SI's RANKING

1. Philadelphia Flyers* 4
2. New Jersey Devils* 7
3. New York Rangers* 14
4. New York Islanders* 17
5. Pittsburgh Penguins 22

NORTHEAST DIVISION

1. Ottawa Senators* 8
2. Toronto Maple Leafs* 15
3. Montreal Canadiens 20
4. Boston Bruins 21
5. Buffalo Sabres 28

SOUTHEAST DIVISION

1. Washington Capitals* 10
2. Carolina Hurricanes* 11
3. Florida Panthers 26
4. Atlanta Thrashers 29
5. Tampa Bay Lightning 30

WESTERN CONFERENCE

CENTRAL DIVISION

1. Detroit Red Wings* 3
2. St. Louis Blues* 12
3. Chicago Blackhawks 18
4. Nashville Predators 25
5. Columbus Blue Jackets 27

NORTHWEST DIVISION

1. Colorado Avalanche* 1
2. Vancouver Canucks* 9
3. Edmonton Oilers 16
4. Minnesota Wild 23
5. Calgary Flames 24

PACIFIC DIVISION

1. San Jose Sharks* 2
2. Dallas Stars* 5
3. Los Angeles Kings* 6
4. Phoenix Coyotes* 13
5. Anaheim Mighty Ducks 19

*PLAYOFF TEAM

EASTERN CONFERENCE FINALS
Philadelphia over New Jersey

WESTERN CONFERENCE FINALS
Colorado over San Jose

STANLEY CUP FINALS
Colorado over Philadelphia

Fast Facts and Insider Rankings on the following pages were
written by David Sabino and Pierre McGuire, respectively.

COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPH BY DAVID E. KLUTHO COVER NHL PREVIEW CAN THE RED WINGS KEEP THE CUP? LEFT TO RIGHT Chris Chelios, Brett Hull, Brendan Shanahan, Nicklas Lidstrom COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPH BY DAVID E. KLUTHO SHARK CITING As the Blues' Al MacInnis can attest, Scott Thornton (17) and hard-charging San Jose will be difficult to stop this season.

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)