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Stars have playoff experience, edge

DALLAS -- Joe Nieuwendyk has waited 10 years for another shot at the Stanley Cup, which might seem like a lifetime to him. A lifetime is exactly what all the Buffalo Sabres have waited.

That's one of the reasons the Dallas Stars are given an edge over the Sabres in the Stanley Cup finals -- because Nieuwendyk and several of his teammates have won 10 titles compared to no one on Buffalo.How important is the Stanley Cup-winning experience in the finals?

"That experience will come in handy, if we get down a game or a goal," said Mike Keane, who has already won two Cups with other teams. "We are going to hopefully use the experience with the group of players we have."

Guy Carbonneau is another two-Cup winner on the Stars. The other Cup winners: Craig Ludwig, Brian Skrudland, Shawn Chambers, Sergei Zubov and Doug Lidster.

Of course, all these players won their Stanley Cups with other teams. The Stars and the Sabres, whose best-of-7 series begins tonight at Reunion Arena, are still looking for their first Cup.

While playing in Minnesota, the North Stars reached the finals twice, in 1981 and 1991. The Sabres' only other appearance in the finals was 1975.

Carbonneau, who played most of his career with the Montreal Canadiens, has had the most playoff experience of anyone in this year's finals -- 202 games. Overall, the Dallas players have participated in a combined 1,985 playoff games. That's almost twice as many as the Sabres, with 1,023.

For Nieuwendyk, returning to the Stanley Cup finals has been a big emotional payoff. His last appearance was in 1989, with the Cup-winning Calgary Flames.

"It all happens so fast that you don't really have a chance to enjoy it," he said. "Now I appreciate coming back a little bit more. I think after you go through some of the wars and the pain and agony of an NHL season, you realize how tough it is to get back to the situation.

"When you're 22 years old and you have a young team like we did in Calgary, you think it is going to be easy. You think this is the way it is going to be in the NHL."

Carbonneau has been especially helpful to the Stars' younger players, according to Dallas coach Ken Hitchcock, and not only because of his Cup experience.

"I've never met a player with that type of feel for the game," Hitchcock said of the 39-year-old center. "He is one step ahead of everything."

Another reason for the Stars' role as favorites was their regular-season performance: For the second straight season, they won the Presidents' Trophy for the best record in the NHL at 51-19-12. The Sabres, meanwhile, finished seventh in the Eastern Conference with a 37-28-17 record, 23 points behind the Stars.

The teams split their two regular-season games.

"I think we are obviously the underdog," Sabres captain Mike Peca said. "But it is a role we are comfortable with, starting on the road especially."

The Stars advanced to the finals with series wins over Edmonton, St. Louis and Colorado. Buffalo, which is 5-3 on the road in the playoffs, ousted Ottawa, Boston and Toronto.

"I don't know if you need to have a Stanley Cup ring to have seasoning," Buffalo's Dixon Ward said. "I think we got some good seasoning in the last couple of rounds."

Buffalo goalie Dominik Hasek said he hasn't thought about the supposed advantage the Stars have with their Stanley Cup experience.

"(The Stanley Cup) is my only focus in the next one or two weeks, to do everything to bring a Stanley Cup to Buffalo," Hasek said.