Ken Hitchcock doesn't look it, but he's extremely nervous before games.

"Coaches are like ducks," the colorful Dallas Stars coach said. "Calm on top, but paddling underneath. Believe me, there's a lot of leg movement."

Hitchcock, patient and introspective with the media, said he would relax before tonight's Game 6 of the Stanley Cup finals by watching a sports event on television.

"Thank God the U.S. Open is on," he said, "I'd be a nut case."

`Dirty' Photos

The media has grabbed hold of all the talk about "dirty" play between the teams in the Stanley Cup finals and given it a good ride.

Buffalo Sabres Coach Lindy Ruff, who has accused the Stars of using their sticks like hatchets, among other things, was ready to parry with the media again today.

When asked what he thought about all the fuss, including a photo of Sabres captain Mike Peca "grimacing," Ruff responded: "I think they're trying to motivate us again. They took 48 pictures and caught him with a grimace, and used that." . . .

A sign in the Stars' locker room before tonight's Game 6 of the Stanley Cup finals:

"We will either find a way, or make a way."

A sign on a road near Marine Midland Arena: "Oh, Lord Stanley, hear our prayer. For too many years, our CUPboard's been bare." The Sabres are seeking their first Stanley Cup. They reached the finals only once in their history, in 1975.

Dominant Defense

The defenses have been great in the finals, starting with goaltender Dominik Hasek of Buffalo and Ed Belfour of Dallas.

But the goalie with the best save percentage in the playoffs isn't in the finals. He's Philadelphia's John Vanbiesbrouck, with a .938 percentage.

Hasek was at .937 and Belfour at .925 prior to tonight's game. . . .

The Stars would break new ground by winning the Stanley Cup. Not only will they bring a championship to the franchise for the first time, but they would become the southernmost team in the league to do it. The Colorado Avalanche have that distinction now.

Optional

Buffalo Coach Lindy Ruff said his team had a "modified" optional skate today.

Modified?

"Yes," he said, "some guys had an option and some guys didn't." . . .

Dallas's Mike Keane on the lack of scoring in the finals, the lowest goal total since 1947: "Every fan would like to see a 20-19 game, but you're not going to see that. If we won 1-0, I'd be happy."

Warming to Hockey

Stars forward Mike Modano says fans in Dallas "have come around" since the team moved from Minnesota. "We knew it was only a matter of time," Modano said of selling the sport in a warm-weather site. "A lot of Northerners have moved down [and] we have a lot of fans who have grown to love the game.

CAPTION: "Coaches are like ducks," said the Dallas Stars' Ken Hitchcock. "Calm on top, but paddling underneath. Believe me, there's a lot of leg movement."