DALLAS, April 23 (UPI) -- The National Hockey League's conference semifinals open Thursday night in Dallas and East Rutherford, N.J., and as the action gets started, the player in the spotlight will be Jean-Sebastien Giguere.
Giguere posted stunning statistics in the Western Conference quarterfinals, but the numbers will be against him when the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim take on the top-seeded Dallas Stars.
New Jersey, meanwhile, will entertain Tampa Bay in the opener of their series. On Friday, Minnesota will be at Vancouver and Philadelphia will visit Ottawa.
Giguere stopped 165 of 171 shots as the Mighty Ducks made the Detroit Red Wings the first defending Stanley Cup champion in 51 years to be swept in the first round of the playoffs.
That earned a second-round matchup with the Stars, against whom Giguere was pulled twice during the season after surrendering seven goals in just over four periods.
"They're a good team, there's no doubt about that," he said. "Great defensemen. They can cycle the puck, they can score some goals. They're a good all-around team."
The Ducks have had a week off since dethroning the Red Wings. And that has put Giguere squarely in the media spotlight.
"I came into the playoffs taking it as a learning experience," he said. "The journalists and the media attention, which we don't get here very often, is part of the learning experience, something that every athlete has to go through if they want to be successful and win a championship. That's fine by me."
The first round also was a learning experience for Stars' counterpart Marty Turco, whose regular season was a lot like Giguere's first round. After setting a modern era record with a 1.72 goals-against average, Turco lost his playoff debut.
A target of physical play, Turco helped Dallas come back and defeat the Edmonton Oilers in six games, eliminating them for the fifth time in six years.
"The effort to take that part of my game away from me was there, but I really focused as much as I could," he said. "Sometimes it hurt mentally and sometimes physically, but it's just something you have to grind through. And I think it was a great learning experience."
The Stars survived the first round without All-Star right wing Bill Guerin and playmaking center Pierre Turgeon, who are recovering from thigh and ankle surgery, respectively.
"If you don't make the big play or score the big goal, it's, `What's wrong with him.' And if you do it, well, it's expected. That's kind of the situation for me, personally, and guys like Sergei, who have raised the level of their play," Modano said.
"You know the skill guys on every team are going to get some extra focus and it comes down to depth."
In the first round, that depth was provided by players like Scott Young, defenseman Darryl Sydor and centers Jason Arnott and Stu Barnes, who were picked up at the trade deadline each of the past two years. Young scored four goals, Sydor contributed six assists and Arnott and Barnes had four points apiece.
New Jersey erased the memory of last year's first-round loss with a stellar defensive job on Joe Thornton and his Boston Bruins.
Madden and linemates Jay Pandolfo and Turner Stevenson did more than keep Thornton in check. They outscored the Boston's No. 1 line, 3-2, as New Jersey took the series in five games.
"He's already got a Selke under his belt, so he's been recognized around this league. Now people are going to start to notice that he has some offensive game as well," Devils defenseman Ken Daneyko said of Madden, who totaled two goals and six assists.
Now Madden and his linemates face a different challenge in Vincent Lecavalier. While Thornton boasts impressive size and strength, Lecavalier, Vaclav Prospal and first-round hero Martin St. Louis rely on speed.
Brought together by Coach John Tortorella in Game 3 of the conference quarterfinals, Lecavalier, Prospal and St. Louis combined for 10 goals and seven assists as the Lightning rallied for an improbable six-game victory over the Washington Capitals.
"We ended up scoring a goal on, I think, the third shift or something like that. When that happens early like that, you get the confidence," said St. Louis, who got the winning goal in each of the last three games. "We got it very early and we just rolled with it."
At the same time, St. Louis knows what Madden did in the first round.
"We are not going to have to just worry about trying to score goals, but (we have to be) careful that they don't do too much damage offensively," he said.
Lecavalier also knows what's waiting should he and his linemates get past Madden's line -- and the defense pairing of Scott Stevens and Brian Rafalski.
"They don't let a lot of goals in," Lecavalier said. "Marty Brodeur is tough to score on."
While he was chased in Game 4 at Boston, Brodeur allowed just three goals in the Devils' four wins and recorded a pair of shutouts. And the first round traditionally is his worst.
"Just getting out of the first one, it's always the hardest one. Now we're here to play hockey," said Brodeur, who is 17-12 lifetime in the conference semifinals.
At the other end of the rink is Nikolai Khabibulin, who has reached the second round for the first time in his career.
"The Devils have a lot of playoff experience, but we're explosive," Tampa Bay checking center Tim Taylor said. "I'm looking forward to it. We're excited. We're going to be behind the eight-ball as far as with the experts, but we don't care."