And now for a word from the underdogs:

"I think we're a better team than our record shows. It seems that we couldn't get untracked. But this is a funny game and at any time you can turn it around and go on a roll, so that's what we're looking for."

The speaker could come from any of a number of teams preparing for the Stanley Cup playoffs. In this case, it's Hartford's Pat Verbeek, whose club faces the Adams Division-champion Boston Bruins Wednesday night in the opener of one of four best-of-7 opening-round series.In the other Adams Division series, Buffalo opens at Montreal, while in the Patrick Division, it's New Jersey at Pittsburgh and Washington at the New York Rangers.

The other four series begin Thursday. In the Norris Division, it's Minnesota at Chicago and Detroit at St. Louis, while in the Smythe Division, Vancouver visits Los Angeles and Edmonton travels to Calgary.

Hartford finished a distant fourth to Boston with 73 points, 27 less than the Bruins. But the Whalers took Boston to seven games in last year's first round and feel their near-miss should help them this time.

"That was a confidence booster for our club," general manager Ed Johnston said. "We went seven games with them and we thought we should have beaten them."

Hartford is still haunted by Game 4 when, leading the series 2-1, the team blew a three-goal lead in the third period.

"I think that killed us last year," Verbeek said. "Hopefully we can avenge that series and get even this year."

The Whalers weren't able to get even with the Bruins during the regular season. After losing the first two games, the Bruins went 5-0-1 against the Whalers, outscoring them 28-10.

"They obviously have the advantage. All year they have been the top dog in the division," Hartford's Kevin Dineen said. "We're not playing with as much confidence as we'd like. But I think we really have taken the attitude that this is a chance to redeem ourselves."

The Sabres would like a chance to redeem themselves, too. Much was expected of Buffalo last spring after the Sabres finished third in the overall standings. But they lost in the first round to Montreal.

This time, little is expected from the Sabres, who went 31-30-19 and finished third. They enter postseason play not having won in the first round of the playoffs since 1983 or in a seven-game series since 1980.

Despite that, coach Rick Dudley is optimistic.

"I just think our work ethic's the best it's been since I've been here," Dudley said Monday. "Lately I've liked a lot of things."

Unlike last year, when the Sabres were openly cocky about their chances of advancing, the Sabres seemed quietly confident they'll be able to beat Montreal.

"We've got some players that have one more year's experience," Rick Vaive said. "They're going to know what to expect now."

Mark Recchi, Pittsburgh's leading scorer with 113 points, did not practice Monday but is expected to be ready for Wednesday night's game against New Jersey. However, the Penguins probably will be without defenseman Grant Jennings for the first round.