Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

GRITTY, NOT PRETTY Stars, Sabres Begin Quest

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

GRITTY, NOT PRETTY Stars, Sabres Begin Quest

Article excerpt

DALLAS -- These Stanley Cup finals are made for hockey purists who prize goaltending more than goal scoring, backchecking more than breakaways.

They will be gritty, not pretty. They will be a turf war on skates, with goals given only grudgingly.

They are not made for TV, darn the NHL's luck.

Here is hockey's best chance in years to gain some artistic and competitive ground on the Michael Jordan-less NBA, to add some rating points and build off the publicity created by the nostalgic farewell of its own megastar, Wayne Gretzky.

But just when the NHL needed some offense, some oomph, some Mark McGwire vs. Sammy Sosa-like fireworks to steal the NBA's thunder and some of its TV viewers, it gets a Stanley Cup final between . . . Buffalo and Dallas?

In hockey, it doesn't get any better defensively than Sabres vs. Stars, the Dominator vs. the Indomitable. But when it comes to hockey on TV, defense usually is a tough, tough sell.

"Look, this isn't going to be a series made for television," Stars coach Ken Hitchcock said yesterday, little more than 24 hours before tonight's Game 1 at Reunion Arena. "So if you're looking for Champions on Ice, you are watching the wrong game. This is going to be a hard-fought, passionate contest where ice is going to be defended very tough. It is a series where both teams' wills will be extended to the max."

So could the ability of fans to hang with a series where goals will likely result mostly from breakdowns, not breakouts.

Buffalo has the Dominator, goaltender Dominik Hasek, the game's most dominant defensive player and the one most capable of deciding a series single-handedly.

Proof of evidence: his unyielding goaltending for the gold medal-winning Czech Republic in the 1998 Nagano Olympics and Buffalo's 11-3 record in these playoffs following a seventh-place finish in the Eastern Conference standings.

And no one can question Dallas' credentials for greatness. The Presidents' Trophy champions unquestionably were the NHL's best regular-season team, with 16 more points than Colorado and 23 more points -- and 14 more wins -- than Buffalo. …

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