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In Sports from United Press International

  |   April 17, 2002 at 2:32 PM
Stanley Cup playoffs begin tonight

DETROIT, April 17 (UPI) -- Upsets could be the order of the day when the NHL Stanley Cup playoffs begin with four games on tap.

In the Eastern Conference, just 14 points separated the Boston Bruins and Montreal Canadiens in the regular season. The gap between the league-leading Detroit Red Wings and Vancouver Canucks in the Western Conference was only 22 points.

The series between the Red Wings and Canucks begins Wednesday night in Detroit, as do the Sharks and Phoenix Coyotes in San Jose, two-time defending conference champion New Jersey Devils open on the road against the Carolina Hurricanes, and the Philadelphia Flyers entertain the Ottawa Senators.

After cruising to another Presidents' Trophy, the Red Wings were viewed as prohibitive favorites to return to the Stanley Cup Finals for the first time since 1998.

But Detroit closed the season with an eight-game winless streak, its longest since 1991, and is facing a Canucks team that has one of the best forward lines in hockey.

There is plenty at stake for a veteran-laded Detroit team that has stumbled in the playoffs each of the last three years. In year's conference quarterfinals, the Red Wings won the

first two games before losing four straight to underdog Los Angeles.

This year, Detroit has veteran sniper Brett Hull and goaltender Dominik Hasek, who has done everything except win a Stanley Cup.

Meanwhile, the Canucks enter the postseason with a nine-game unbeaten streak. A year ago, they battled Colorado in every game of a four-game sweep, a series Vancouver played without Markus Naslund and Andrew Cassels. Both are healthy this time around and join Todd Bertuzzi on a potent No. 1 line.

"They've been the hottest team in the league since Christmas and they've got the hottest line in the league," said Detroit left wing Brendan Shanahan. "It'll be a test. They're young and excited, and the way they've played the last few months, they've gained a lot of confidence."

Few expected the Coyotes to reach the playoffs after dumping salary in the offseason. But goalie Sean Burke played like a Hart Trophy candidate and Coach Bob Francis relied on scoring by committee to nail down the sixth seed in the West. Phoenix has not won a playoff series since 1987.

"It's where everything is judged, we had a great year, we surprised a lot of people," Burke said, "but they now know what we can do. We're not going to surprise anyone."

The series between the Devils and Hurricanes is one of two playoff rematches. New Jersey is seeded sixth, but a win by the two-time defending Eastern Conference champions would not be considered an upset since they went 14-3


1 to close the season.


Rocker demoted by Rangers

ANAHEIM, Calif., April 17 (UPI) -- John Rocker, whose once promising career as a major league closer has gone haywire, has been demoted to the Triple-A Oklahoma RedHawks after giving up a game-clinching, two-run double to Anaheim centerfielder Darin Erstad in the 10th inning Tuesday night.

He was told about the team's decision by Texas Manager Jerry Narron, pitching coach Oscar Acosta and Assistant General Manager Dan O'Brien shortly after the Rangers' 6-5 loss.

Rocker gave up two hits, two runs and one walk in 1/3 of an inning. On Monday, he committed a costly throwing error on a routine bunt in the ninth inning against the Seattle Mariners, which the Rangers eventually lost, 13-11.

For the season, Rocker is 0-1 with a 9.53 ERA in 5-2/3 innings of relief. He was 1-for-3 in save opportunities.

Rocker was given the ball and a 5-4 lead Tuesday and asked to face the Angels' eighth, ninth and lead-off hitters. He faced those three batters and just one more, Erstad, who hit a lined drive down the right-field line for a two-run.

Rocker was forced into the closer role this season when Jeff Zimmerman was sidelined with tendonitis in his right elbow. Zimmerman is not expected back until mid-May and the Rangers will likely use several pitchers in the closer role until he is healthy.

For his career, Rocker is 11-20 with a 3.21 ERA and 88 saves in 254 Major League appearances with Atlanta, Cleveland, and Texas.

His best season came with the Braves in 1999, when he earned 38 saves with a 2.49 ERA in 74 games. Last season, he went 3-7 with four saves and a 5.45 ERA in 38 games with Cleveland.

Rocker gained notoriety in late 1999 when a Sports Illustrated story quoted him for making crude comments about minorities, homosexuals and New Yorkers. He was suspended in early 2000 and ordered to undergo sensitivity training by Major League Baseball.


UConn assistant named DePaul coach

CHICAGO, April 17 (UPI) -- DePaul has called on Connecticut associate coach Dave Leitao to revive its basketball program.

Leitao is best known for helping Coach Jim Calhoun transform Connecticut into a national power, recruiting the likes of Ray Allen, Richard Hamilton, Donyell Marshall and Scott Burrell.

However, Leitao was unsuccessful in his only head coaching stint, compiling a 22-35 record in two years at Northeastern, his alma mater, before returning to Connecticut as an assistant.

Leitao replaces Pat Kennedy, who resigned on March 5 and later accepted the coaching job at Montana.

Kennedy took DePaul to the NCAA Tournament in the 1999-2000 campaign, but the Blue Demons tumbled the last two seasons, finishing 12-18 and 9-19, respectively.

In 2001-02, the Blue Demons lost 15 of their last 17 games and failed to even qualify for the Conference USA Tournament. DePaul was 2-14 in league play and closed the season with a six-game losing streak.

Florida Atlantic Coach Sidney Green, a popular player with the Chicago Bulls, was a finalist for the job, but DePaul opted to go with Leitao, who was an assistant at Connecticut from 1986-94 before serving as head coach at Northeastern. He went 18-11 in his first season and was named North Atlantic Conference coach of the year, but followed with a 4-24 record and returned to Connecticut as an associate coach in May 1996.


Emergency surgery for Salazar

INDIANAPOLIS, April 17 (UPI) -- Indy Racing League driver Eliseo Salazar has undergone successful emergency surgery to repair a torn vertebral artery in his chest, the result of a testing accident on Tuesday at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Salazar is listed in stable condition in the critical care unit at Methodist Hospital, said Dr. Henry Bock, Director of Medical Services for the Indy Racing League.

The surgery was performed Tuesday night. The accident occurred during private testing for the Indianapolis 500.

Salazar, who drives for A.J. Foyt Racing, made contact with the outside retaining wall at the first turn.

At the time of the accident, Salazar was transported by ground to Methodist Hospital for further evaluation.


Report: New deal for Testaverde

NEW YORK, April 17 (UPI) -- The New York Jets apparently avoided paying a salary cap-busting clause to Vinny Testaverde by

reaching agreement on a new deal with the veteran quarterback.

The New York Daily News is reporting that Testaverde, who had a year left on his contract, reached agreement with the Jets on a

new five-year contract and will earn about $4.5 million in 2002.

"I feel comfortable that we've agreed on almost all the terms in the contract," Testaverde's agent, Michael Azzarelli, told the

Daily News. "It's just a matter of doing some paperwork."

By reaching a new deal, the Jets avoided paying a $9.5 million guarantee to Testaverde that was due by June 4.

The 38-year-old Testaverde is recovering from surgery to remove a benign tumor from his right foot and will not partipate in minicamp later this month. He is expected to be ready by late

May or early June.

Testaverde had problems adjusting to the West Coast offense installed by offensive coordinator Paul Hackett last season, throwing 15 touchdowns with 14 interceptions, but still led the Jets to a 10-6 record and an AFC wild card berth.

With quarterback Chad Pennington, a first-round pick in 2000, waiting in the wings, Testaverde may not be the starter beyond the 2002 season.


Holyfield to tangle with Rahman

ATLANTIC CITY, N.J., April 17 (UPI) -- Former heavyweight champions Evander Holyfield and Hasim Rahman will meet on June 1 in Atlantic City, N.J.

Holyfield (37-5-2, 25 KOs) is coming off a controverisal loss to WBA champion John Ruiz on Dec. 15. It was his second loss in three meetings with Ruiz. Holyfield, who has beaten Mike Tyson twice and is a four-time heavyweight champion, lost the IBF and WBA titles to Lennox Lewis in November 1999. He beat Ruiz for the WBA

crown in August, 2000, but has lost the last two meetings.

Rahman (35-2, 29 KOS) recorded one of the biggest upsets in heavyweight history when he knocked out Lewis in the fifth round last April in South Africa. After the two brawled at a prefight press conference, Lewis knocked out Rahman in the fourth round on Nov. 17.


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