Avalanche, Red Wings set to rekindle rivalry

Rested and healthy, the Colorado Avalanche will have revenge on their minds Thursday when they open a NHL Western Conference semifinal against the hometown Detroit Red Wings (7:30 p.m. ET).

Detroit prevailed in 7 games in last playoff matchup in 2002

The last time Colorado and Detroit met in the NHL playoffs, the Avalanche blew a 3-2 lead in a best-of-seven Western Conference semifinal and the Red Wings went on to hoist the Stanley Cup.

The year was 2002, and Kris Draper and Darren McCarty were two-thirds of a potent checking line for Detroit.

They're still hanging around, as is Joe Sakic, Peter Forsberg, Adam Foote and Milan Hejduk for Colorado.

"We pushed each other to be the best. It was a slugfest back and forth — figuratively," McCarty told reporters on the eve of Thursday's West semifinal opener in Detroit (7:30 p.m. ET).

Literally, as well, but not so much in this year's season series, a 4-0 sweep by the Red Wings, including three shutouts.

While fans in Detroit might be quick to write off Colorado in this series — given the fact its scoreless streak against the Red Wings stands at 214-plus minutes — it is important to remember Sakic and Forsberg missed all four matchups and feisty winger Ryan Smyth a pair.

"They're a totally different team," said Detroit coach Mike Babcock, who watched his top-seeded team dispatch Nashville in six games in Round 1.

Added Draper: "You add those three players [Sakic, Forsberg, Smyth] and you have a great power play. Discipline will be a big part of this series."

Indeed. The No. 6-seeded Avalanche scored six power-play goals in its quarter-final victory over the Minnesota Wild, scoring on half of their opportunities on the road (four of eight). But they were 0-for-11 versus the Red Wings this season.

Goalies a prime factor

This battle likely will be won between the pipes, with Colorado goaltender Jose Théodore and Detroit counterpart Chris Osgood in the spotlight.

Théodore, who wrested the starting job from Peter Budaj during the season, has been sensational since January, posting 21 wins and a 2.24 goals-against average.

He took his play to another level against third-seeded Minnesota, finishing with a 1.88 GAA and .940 save percentage while conjuring up memories of 2002 when he was awarded the Vezina Trophy as the NHL's top netminder.

"To me, why he's playing well is that he's in control of his head and his emotions," said defenceman Adam Foote, who rejoined the Avalanche at the trade deadline. "He's very focused. I haven't seen him get up or down."

Meanwhile, Osgood supplanted six-time Vezina winner Dominik Hasek in Game 4 of Round 1 and gave up just one goal to Nashville in 2½ games.

Turning up intensity

Not to be forgotten is the intensity of one of the NHL's best rivalries, which remains a hot topic leading into the series. The teams may have provided a sneak preview in their last regular-season encounter in Denver on Feb. 18.

A hit by Colorado's Ian Laperriere on Nicklas Lidstrom left the Wings' captain and top defenceman woozy and wobbly on a sprained knee that kept him out of the lineup for three weeks. Detroit's enforcer, Aaron Downey, fought Laperriere that night.

"The [young] guys that haven't felt [the intensity] or seen it will immediately capture the feeling, the excitement, the meaning of a shift," said Avalanche coach Joel Quenneville, an assistant coach on Colorado's Cup-winning team in 1996.

Red Wings centre Pavel Datsyuk had six points against the Avalanche in the regular season, and leads his team with three goals and five points in the playoffs. Henrik Zetterberg, who broke a scoreless tie with Colorado on Feb. 1 in Detroit, had four points versus Nashville.

Left-winger Kirk Maltby (hamstring) hopes to play at some point in the series, while centre Tomas Kopecky (torn knee ligament) is out for the playoffs.

Sakic, who no doubt remembers being outscored 9-0 by Detroit over the final two games of that 2002 conference semifinal, topped the Avalanche with six points in this year's first round.

Winger Marek Svatos (torn knee ligament) and defenceman Brett Clark (shoulder) are out for Colorado.

With files from the Associated Press