Conference Finals Predictions
by Colin Van Osch(NHL)
Posted on May 17, 2009, 12:38 PM
Well, since the first game just started, itís time to get this up. Iím joined by my good friend Flyboy from the forums who is going to toss in his 2 cents on these upcoming games. Unfortunately, the 7 people who promised that they would get involved decided that they couldnít punch out 200 words on a game, so theyíre out.
Pittsburgh Penguins (4) vs. Carolina Hurricanes (6)
Two of the hottest teams coming into the play-offs are now going head to head. This is going to be a tough one to pick. Carolina beat the best goalie of all time in round one, and beat the best goalie this year in round two. Now they face one of the best young goalies in the league in round three. Luckily, they have a great young goalie of their own, who already has a Stanley Cup ring and a Conn Smythe trophy. Ward has been nothing short of spectacular so far. The way this team is playing, by defeating an always tough Devils team, and a phenomenal Boston squad, it just seems like it's destiny for them to win it all. Pittsburgh is having a much different post-season then their Stanley Cup Final run of last year, where they waltzed in almost uncontested. This year they had to get through a physically tough series against the Flyers and were taken to 7 games against the Capitals. I think that the Pens are showing more heart and grit and by clawing their way through the play-offs this year, it's made them a stronger team as a whole. I think this game is going to be determined, not by the big names of Malkin, Crosby, Eric Staal, but by players like Jordan Staal, Tyler Kennedy, Joe Corvo and Matt Cullen. So, I'm going with...as much as it sickens my Flyers heart...Pens in 6.
Iím excited for the Staal vs. Staal matchup. Not in the sense that Iím amazed that they let brothers play on opposite teams, more in the sense that the logical matchup will be Jordan, being the Center of the top defensive line for the Pens, up against Eric, the leader of the top offensive line for the Canes.
It is truly amazing, but I realized that the better the Hurricanes do in this post-season, the more I discount them. I said in the first round that you couldnít ever bet against Brodeur, who literally gave them the series in the end by not performing the most basic functions of his job. Then I said that there was no way I could see Carolina coming out of the Boston series victorious. Now theyíre playing a team that, if you consider regular season statistics to be an accurate portrayal, is the lowest ranked team they will face these Playoffs.
Putting serious, proper consideration into this, the Hurricanes could win the series for about 5 reasons. Theyíre the same reasons I listed as ĎWhy They could beat Boston.í Cam Ward is just an absolute beast, and itís really just damn near impossible to think that heís not going to pull a few out of his hat. You can comment on how Pittsburghs depth scoring will put 60 minute pressure on Ward, but Iíd have said the same thing about Boston. Carolina has the tools to pull this out. Like Chicago, they play hard from buzzer to buzzer, unconditionally.
I donít see it though. Cam Ward has played, I believe, 50 of the last 51 games. He has run 2 straight Game 7 seriesí. If Carolina is to win, Cam Ward will need to eclipse his performances in the New Jersey series and the Boston series. The pressure that the Penguins are going to put on him is going to be immensely larger. If the Hurricanes are going to win, they need to dominate Pittsburgh with the body immediately and theyíll need to find a way to guarantee that Ward wonít be flopping all over the ice trying to save every cross ice pass that theyíve got in store for him. I donít see it happening, but I do see it being a great series because you can never count out a team who has this momentum. Carolina is the giant killer this year, and their performance against 2 stronger teams should leave you trembling a bit if youíre in Pittsburgh. A bit though, not too much, because in the end, your victories arenít going to come easily, but they are going to come. Penguins in 5.
Detroit Red Wings (2) vs. Chicago Blackhawks (4)
Oh boy, this one is reaalllyyy tough to call. The Blackhawks are such an amazing, energetic young team, who play hard for the entire 60 minutes, regardless how many goals they're down, and more often than not, come back from a deficit to at least tie. Keith and Seabrook are so good on defense, that I sometimes forget they have Brian Campbell. Kane, Toews, Havlat, Versteeg and Sharp are all game changers. And the one place they have a veteran is where they need it...in goal. Khabibulin's play-off experience (he won the Cup with Tampa Bay) gives the young guys in front of him the confidence to play with a little more reckless abandon. The one guy that really impressed me in the Vancouver series was Dustin Byfuglien. He got under the skin of the Vancouver players and was a fantastic agitator that could follow it up with some offensive production. He did a great job of getting under Luongo's skin. And what can you say about Detroit. Top to bottom, they are about as solid of a team as you can find, and remained pretty much unchanged from their Stanley Cup winning team of last year. Osgood, whose play at times this season, wasn't exactly setting the world on fire, has become the Osgood of last year's playoff. Franzen is a play-off monster (33 pts in 27 games), and Zetterberg, Datsyuk, and Lidstrom are three of the best. Oh, yeah...then they went and added Marian Hossa. When it comes to deciding which team to pick, it really comes down to what I listen to...my heart that loves watching the Blackhawks, and their exciting, young, fast-paced team, or my head, which looks at Detroit's roster and knows it's may be one of the most solid collection of players ever. Screw it...going with the heart. Blackhawks in 7.
Well, this one will be fun enough. On one hand, Chicago has the freedom of very reduced expectations. Frankly, I donít know that anyone expected them to get even this far, and if they were to bow out at this point in the playoffs, no one, in Chicago or elsewhere in the league, would look down their nose at them. Theyíre young and inexperienced but very passionate, which is as much a curse sometimes as it is a benefit. On the team, I believe only 3 have Cup rings - Khabby, Andrew Ladd and Sami Pahlsson. Compare that to the Red Wings, who, well. You know. Outside of Hossa and the 2 or 3 rookies, theyíre all still here from last year.
Comparitively, Detroit has massive expectations on them at this point. Theyíre a consistently successful team and it would reflect very poorly upon them, especially in their own market, if they were to bow out here. The positive is that Detroit is used to that pressure, being pretty much immersed in it every year, and have shown that they can perform under those circumstances, even thriving in it.
Both franchises have iced smart teams. Both have frightening depth and scoring 4 lines deep. Both teams are defensively sound for the most part. In the playoffs, these teams are 1-2 for Power Play Percentage (advantage: Chicago) and both teams have consummate playoff performers in net. The trendy pick is Chicago. Everyone wants to see this team succeed and everyone wants to feel good about them. The logical choice is Detroit. They have retained the core that won last year and made some additions that can only benefit them. Itís going to be a great series with no rolling over. Chicago has the advantage in showing their physical presence, but Detroit maintains the advantage for discipline. If Chicago is going to win, they need to keep on what theyíve been doing and play every second of the game like they did in the first 2 rounds. They need to make smart decisions in the after play scrums. You arenít likely to drag any Red Wings into penalty situations after the whistle, but you might put some heat on yourself and you cannot give Detroit too many Powerplays.
Iím going to choose Detroit, even though the only way Iíll be satisfied with a Stanley Cup Rematch is if Hossa still doesnít win a Cup. Detroit isnít Calgary and theyíre not Vancouver. Theyíre not going to let you come back from 2 or 3 goals down to get back in the game. Detroit will not give you too many Powerplay chances and you canít give them any. I donít think Chicago can hold steady enough to not give the Wings a 2 or 3:1 PP advantage. I donít think that Chicago can allow Detroit to ever get ahead, but I also donít think they can stop them. As such, and as much as it kills me, Detroit in 6.