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Young guns, old guys among stars to watch in NHL playoffs

The post-season begins Wednesday with Crosby and the Pittsburgh Penguins visiting the Ottawa Senators 7 p.m. ET, the Dallas Stars at Vancouver Canucks 10 p.m. ET, the San Jose Sharks at Nashville Predators 8 p.m. ET and the Minnesota Wild at Anaheim Ducks 10:30 ET.

It will be the first NHL playoff experience for 19-year-old Crosby as well as for teammates Evgeni Malkin, 20, and Jordan Staal, 18.

The NHL reports that the last team with three 20-and-under players in key roles in the post-season was the 1979-80 Edmonton Oilers, who had 19-year-old Wayne Gretzky and Mark Messier and 20-year-old Kevin Lowe.

That Oilers team was swept in a three-game series by the Philadelphia Flyers, but two games went into overtime and the youngsters combined for seven points - half their team's offence.

The Oilers went on to win five Stanley Cups between 1984 and 1990 and one wonders how many the emerging Penguins may get before they're done.

Staal is hardly the first 18-year-old in the post-season. There have been 47 over the years, including Gordie Howe (1947), Steve Yzerman (1984), Trevor Linden and Mike Modano (1989), Jarome Iginla (1996) and Joe Thornton (1998).

Then there's 40-year-old Gary Roberts, a scourge to the Senators when he was on a Toronto squad that beat them in three straight playoff years from 2001 to 2004.

Before he was dealt to Pittsburgh in February, Roberts asked to be traded to one of two teams - Toronto or Ottawa. Instead, he'll play against the Senators once again.

Between Florida and Pittsburgh, Roberts played six times against Ottawa this season, posting four goals and one assist. He has 17 points in 18 career playoff games against the Sens.

Even older is Detroit's 42-year-old goaltender Dominik Hasek, who returns to playoff action Thursday against the Calgary Flames 7 p.m. ET for the first time since he helped the Wings clinch the 2002 Stanley Cup from Carolina.

Hasek, who has a 2.03 goals-against average in 97 career playoff games, will be the fifth-oldest goalie ever to play for the Cup after Johnny Bower (1969) and Lester Patrick (1928), who were 44, Jacques Plante (1973) who was 43, and Gump Worsley (1972) who was 42 but several months older than Hasek.

Hasek's teammate, defenceman Chris Chelios, is 45 and first played in the post-season in 1984 for Montreal, scoring a goal in his first game against Boston. That was only six days short of a year before Flames defenceman Dion Phaneuf was born on April 10, 1985.

Chelios will set a record by appearing in the playoffs for a 22nd year, edging former Bruin Ray Bourque's record of 21 years. Only Howe, who played at 52, has brought an older body to the playoffs.

Chelios also leads all players in playoff experience with 228 career games.

Next is Wings defenceman Niklas Lidstrom with 174 games, Anaheim defenceman Scott Niedermayer with 162 and two former Wings - Brendan Shanahan of the New York Rangers and Darren McCarty of the Flames - each with 157 games.

The Sabres-Islanders series has many sub-plots, starting with New York coach Ted Nolan facing the team that fired him amid controversy in 1997.

Nolan, who had a winning team but battled with management, didn't get another NHL job until this season. Now, some consider him a coach of the year candidate.

He's up against Lindy Ruff, who has coached the Sabres since 1997 and is currently the longest-serving bench boss with one team in the league.

Former Sabres sniper Miroslav Satan now plays for the Isles, but likely won't be asked for pointers. In four games against Buffalo this season, he had no goals, one assist and was minus-6.

The Rangers-Atlanta Thrashers series features a showdown between the goaltenders from the 2006 Olympic final - Henrik Lundqvist and Kari Lehtonen. Lundqvist's beat Lehtonen's Finns 3-2.

But Lehtonen's Thrashers won two and lost one to Lundqvist's Rangers in the regular season.

Those pondering a bet against the New Jersey Devils in their series with Tampa Bay should consider this: Devil Martin Brodeur's career goals-against average in 153 playoff games is 1.89.

A trivia question: Name the nine players from last year's Stanley Cup finalists, Edmonton and Carolina, who will take part in this year's playoffs.

Answer: Ex-Oilers Chris Pronger with Anaheim, Ryan Smyth and Marc-Andre Bergeron with the Isles, Ty Conklin and Jaroslav Spacek with Buffalo and Georges Laraque with Pittsburgh; ex-Hurricanes Mark Recchi with Pittsburgh, Matt Cullen with the Rangers and Martin Gerber with Ottawa.



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