Originally created 06/04/99

Game 7 winner may end up hoisting the Cup



DALLAS -- The first six games of the Western Conference finals have been as much about styles as they have scoring goals.

So with Game 7 looming Friday, the Dallas Stars and Colorado Avalanche know that whichever team can control the tempo the longest will likely be playing Buffalo for the Stanley Cup.

"In this series, there have been so many tempo changes and switches of momentum," Dallas forward Jamie Langenbrunner said. "It's going to come down to the team that sticks with it the longest and keeps battling the hardest."

The Stars play a plodding, defensive-oriented game with an emphasis on tight checking.

The Avalanche are an offensive-minded bunch who try luring opponents into a wide-open game by daring teams to try outskating and outshooting them.

The inherent pressure of a seventh game is somewhat to Dallas' advantage. Players tend to be tentative for fear of making the season-ending mistake, thus slowing the game's pace.

Colorado coach Bob Hartley is warning his players not to fall into that trap.

"We don't play cautious," Hartley said. "Dallas plays for breaks and is very opportunistic. We have to use our speed to our advantage and we have to be on our best game."

Having the game in Reunion Arena is Dallas' reward for having the NHL's best regular-season record.

The Stars are 6-2 at home in the playoffs, with both losses in this series. Colorado is 8-1 on the road in the postseason, with the only loss in Dallas.

One theory behind the Avalanche's road success is that teams want to play exciting hockey for their home fans, so they end up playing to Colorado's strength. That's exactly what happened in Game 5 when the Avalanche won 7-5 and took a 3-2 lead in the series.

The pendulum swung back in Game 6, with Dallas forcing Colorado to scrounge for every opportunity. The Stars ended up winning 4-1 in a game that was close until the final minutes.

"We can't do anything fancy, even though our fans would like to see that, because that's not our style," Stars defenseman Craig Ludwig said. "We've got to keep things simple and not try to do more than what our team allows us to do. We've got to continue to play like that -- or at least start to play like that in this round."

As much as forwards and defensemen try determining the game's flow, it really comes down to which goaltender is playing best.

So far this series, it's been a push.

Colorado's Patrick Roy has shown flashes of why he's won more playoff games than any goalie in history. He's also shown flashes of vulnerability -- especially on shots above his shoulders.

He also has a 2-3 record in Game 7s.

"I don't mind big games. I feel comfortable," he said. "The reason is it is easier for me to focus and concentrate."

Dallas' Ed Belfour has been superb throughout the playoffs, but won't be able to escape his choker reputation until he hoists the Cup -- even though he's 2-0 in Games 7s.

"It has been a battling series all the way through," Belfour said. "They feel they are right there and we have to keep doing what need to do."

Players on both teams are somewhat savoring the excitement of this game. They feel the pressure and understand what's riding on their next 60 minutes on the ice, but they know the reward is what they've been working toward since last summer.

"We set up a game plan Day 1 of training camp with the players," Hartley said. "That ultimate goal is none different, but now there are 24 teams watching."