Joe Sakic vs. Jason Arnott
Sakic remains as close to the perfect player as humanly possible. He is reliable, playing in all 82 Avalanche games, leading the team with 87 points. Sakic recently had a 13-game point streak as he shook off the aftereffects of a disappointing run at the Torino Olympics, where he was captain of an underachieving Canadian team. He kills penalties and takes important faceoffs, as witnessed by the fact only three players won more draws than Sakic this season.
He is the ultimate leads-by-action guy and, as such, has always been a go-to guy in the playoffs. But in the absence of Adam Foote and Peter Forsberg, now more than ever the Avalanche seem destined to go only as far as Sakic can carry them on his 36-year-old back.
Perhaps that explains the outburst of aggression.
But that assumption would be wrong. Arnott set career highs in points and assists. He is second on the team in goals, points and game-winning goals. This marks the seventh straight season Arnott has hit the 20-goal mark. Has it all been easy? No. Head coach Dave Tippett benched Arnott for indifferent play in late December. But instead of pouting, Arnott responded with inspired play through the second half of the season.
And there's every chance the Avalanche are about to find out that Arnott is the real deal. On a Dallas team whose persona has been about Mike Modano and the Finns, especially super shootout shooter Jussi Jokinen, these playoffs seem destined to be Arnott's stage.
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The Hero vs. The Villain
There will be one player who will be the team's hero and there will be another who will crush the other team's dreams. Here's a look at the Heroes and Villains of the first round.
• Lightning vs. Senators
• Canadiens vs. Hurricanes
• Rangers vs. Devils
• Flyers vs. Sabres