N.Y. Rangers at Quebec (7:30 p.m. EDT). The Rangers begin defense of their Stanley Cup championship against the top-seed Nordiques.
Detroit defenseman Paul Coffey was selected NHL player of the month for April on Thursday after scoring 22 points to lead the Red Wings to an 11-4-2 record. Coffey edged New York Rangers defenseman Brian Leetch as well as Jaromir Jagr of Pittsburgh and Peter Bondra of Washington.
The 3 1/2-month lockout that cut the NHL season from 84 games to 48 didn’t appear to dampen the enthusiasm of paying fans. The Chicago Blackhawks became the first team in league history to average more than 20,000 fans at the new United Center. New Jersey posted the biggest rise among teams not changing arenas, averaging 16,379 fans, up 1,590. Anaheim and San Jose sold out all 24 of its games, as Tampa Bay averaged 19,960, second in the league. Seven of the eight Canadian-based teams, however, saw dips in attendance.
Since winning back-to-back Stanley Cup championships in 1991 and 1992, Pittsburgh has lost to the New York Islanders in seven games in the Eastern Conference semifinals in 1993 and to Washington _ its first-round opponent this season _ in the opening round last season.
Pittsburgh’s power-play, erratic all season, is only 3-for-25 in the Penguins’ last six games, a reminder of its dissmal 2-for-27 in the 1994 playoffs against Washington.
Even though his vision is fine, Eric Lindros’ blood-streaked left eye may keep him from starting Philadelphia’s series against Buffalo on Sunday. Lindros tied with Jaromir Jagr for the scoring title with 70 points. ... Since Tom Barrasso’s aching wrist is still not completely healed, season-long starter Ken Wregget is expected to get all or most of the action in goal for Pittsburgh against Washington.
The Pittsburgh Penguins have several 30-plus-year-old players on the roster, including Joe Mullen (38), Kjell Samuelsson (36), Larry Murphy (34), Ron Francis (32), Ulf Samuelsson (31), Ken Wregget (31), John Cullen (30), Tomas Sandstrom (30), Kevin Stevens (30), and Tom Barrasso (30).
Wayne Gretzky had a sub-par season, with career-low totals of 11 goals, 37 assists for 48 points in 48 games. However, he denied he is considering retirement or that he would force a trade from Los Angeles to a contending team. Gretzky, 34, has one year left on a contract that will pay him $8.5 million.
Anaheim’s Paul Kariya, 19, who led the Mighty Ducks in scoring with 18 goals and 39 points, is a strong candidate for rookie of the year honors. Kariya is ranked in the top two in eight different NHL rookie scoring categories.
``Our players know exactly what’s expected of them going into the playoffs. We have enough experience and enough character in our dressing room. We know how to win. We’ll be there. We’ll get by the first series, no problem, in my mind. I feel very confident about that.″ _ Pittsburgh coach Eddie Johnston on the Penguins’ series with Washington.
``I love these guys. Wherever they go, I will always cheer for them.″ _ Winnipeg Jets fan Michelle Enns, 23, on the hearing the club is likely finished in Winnipeg.