DENVER (AP) _ Florida Panthers coach Doug MacLean says he is ``still in a survival mode'' in the Stanley Cup playoffs even though his team is in the finals.

He just never expected to make it to the NHL's championship round in his first year.

``If I did, do you think I would have signed what I signed for?'' MacLean said jokingly prior to Tuesday night's opening game of the finals.

MacLean, one of the NHL's wittiest coaches, kept the media chuckling throughout his news conference. MacLean was asked if he thought the altitude in Denver would affect his team.

``John Madden said coming in here never affected his teams.''

MacLean paused for his punch-line.

``Did they win or lose to those teams?

One reporter asked McLean about the excitement in Florida over the Panthers.

``My little guy wore his championship hat to school, but the teacher wouldn't let him wear it,'' MacLean said. ``The teacher wound up wearing the hat. I hope she bumps up his grades a touch.''

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MAKING HIS MARC: Not to be upstaged in his home arena by a visiting coach, Colorado's Marc Crawford was just as engaging in his pre-game meeting.

Asked about the following that the Avalanche have picked up in Colorado since their relocation from Quebec, Crawford said his team was ``turning on a lot of new fans.''

To which he added, ``Hockey's such a wonderful sport that you don't have to know a lot about it _ look at me!''

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RAREFIED AIR: The Florida Panthers can join rare company by winning the Stanley Cup. Only one other team in sports has won a league championship in its third year as an expansion franchise _ the NBA's Milwaukee Bucks, who won in 1971 with Lew Alcindor before he became Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.

The Colorado Avalanche also has a rare accomplishment to shoot for: Only one other sports team has won in its first year after relocation _ the 1937 Washington Redskins, who had played in Boston the year before winning the NFL title.

Only the Dodgers and Raiders in Los Angeles and the Detroit Lions of 1935, who relocated from Portsmouth, Ohio, won in their second years of relocation.

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NEW WAVE: The Florida Panthers' fans may have their plastic rats to throw, but at least the Colorado Avalanche had white pom-poms to wave when they opened the Stanley Cup finals Tuesday night. They were left on every seat at McNichols Arena as a promotional item in Game 1.

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WAITING FOR STANLEY: The Stanley Cup on display always draws crowds, and this year is no different.

Fans were waiting as late as midnight Monday to catch a glimpse of the oldest sports trophy in North America, on display at the NHL's headquarters hotel in Denver along with the league's other trophies.

The NHL also reports that fans turned out in record numbers to see the trophy at the four conference playoff sites in Denver, Miami, Pittsburgh and Detroit.

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REVERING ROY: The Florida Panthers have great respect for Colorado goaltender Patrick Roy, one of the NHL's greatest playoff goaltenders. Few know him better than Panthers captain Brian Skrudland, a former teammate of Roy's in Montreal.

``Anything that he sees he is going to stop,'' Skrudland said. ``Watching his last series (against Detroit), it's interesting _ he just makes the saves, even the ones he doesn't see. Obviously, the name of Patrick Roy for us is first and foremost.''

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MEDIA CROWD: There will be no shortage of media attention at this year's finals. The NHL has issued 500 media credentials, which according to NHL publicist Gary Meagher is comparable to other years.

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OFFICIALLY SPEAKING: A total of seven officials have been selected to work the Stanley Cup finals _ three referees and four linesmen.

Working Game 1 Tuesday night were referee Bill McCreary and linesmen Ray Scapinello and Brian Murphy. Other officials selected by the NHL are referees Don Koharski and Andy Van Hellemond and linesmen Kevin Collins and Gerard Gauthier.

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LUCKY ONE: Since the best-of-7 format began in the Stanley Cup finals, teams winning Game 1 have gone on to capture the championship 45 of 57 times.

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MISSING CLAUDE: As they prepared to announce the players for Tuesday night's game at McNichols Arena, the Avalanche fans chanted, ``We want Lemieux, we want Lemieux.''

Claude Lemieux, the object of their affection, was nowhere in sight, of course. The Colorado forward was suspended by the NHL for the first two games of the series for what the league determined was a cheap-shot hit of Detroit's Kris Draper in the Western Conference finals.

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TRAPPING THE RATS: Colorado's first goal Tuesday night brought a flood of mousetraps from the stands at McNichols Arena.

It was an obvious answer to the practice of Florida Panthers' throwing plastic rats on the ice every time their team scores at home.