Saturday, May 16, 2009

Into The Crystal Ball: 2009 Conference Final Edition

If you thought you just witnessed the Stanley Cup Final, you could be excused. Three of the four second round series went to seven games (the other one going six), with one of those Game 7’s needed overtime to be resolved. The best of those series was the series between the Pittsburgh Penguins and Washington Capitals, which lived up to the hype of a high-scoring series led by stalwarts Sidney Crosby and Alexander Ovechkin (respectively) and featured three overtime contests (albeit not in Game 7). The only dull spot in the entire second round was the performance of the Vancouver Canucks, who literally did let their series with the Chicago Blackhawks slip away. Regardless, it produced what look to be two classic series, so it’s time to unleash the orb again.

Eastern Conference Finals

(4) Pittsburgh Penguins vs. (6) Carolina Hurricanes

There’s a very strong argument that, like the Chicago Blackhawks, the Hurricanes are only where they are because of luck. To get this far, they only needed one of the best defensive teams of all time (the New Jersey Devils) to have a brain cramp in their most important game of the year (Game 7), and winning a Game 7 in overtime against the Boston Bruins means that series ended by the thinnest of margins. That is unfair to the ‘Canes (led by the scoring of Eric Staal, the grit of Jussi Jokinen, the passing of Ray Whitney and the goaltending of Cam Ward) who showed they were very much the equals of the Devils in Round One and were just that much quicker, whereas against the Bruins they built a 3-1 series lead based largely on better overall team speed before almost frittering it away in Game 7 (which they led before someone forgot about Milan Lucic in front of the net). They also look to have a great chance against the Penguins, who aren’t that big but are just as fast. While the ‘Canes don’t have equals to Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin (the latter being not *as* engaged against the Capitals as Crosby was), the ‘Canes do have equals to Chris Kunitz (Erik Cole) and Matt Cooke (Jokinen) among others, while Ward is also arguably comparable in net to Marc-Andre Fleury in net. Where this will be won is on defence, because the Penguins are just deeper- Carolina may have Joni Pitkanen, but Pittsburgh has Sergei Gonchar, Kris Letang, Brooks Orpik and Mark Eaton. It’s going to be a series- and it will be fun- but the Penguins are just too deep to be denied. Pittsburgh 4, Carolina 2

Western Conference Finals

(2) Detroit Red Wings vs. (4) Chicago Blackhawks

Unlike the Hurricanes, the Blackhawks pretty are where they are because of luck. Don’t get me wrong, there’s a lot of talent on this Blackhawks team- Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane need no introductions (though Kane needs to step up), Patrick Sharp, Dustin Byfuglien and Cup-winner Andrew Ladd lead a fast group of forwards that confounded the Canucks and their defence, led by Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook and Brian Campbell, is deep- but to get to the Conference Finals, Chicago only had to defeat two teams that are just not historically great in the playoffs (the Calgary Flames and Vancouver Canucks). That changes against the Red Wings, who may have looked vulnerable against the Anaheim Ducks but keep in mind Anaheim is also an experienced playoff winner. Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk (despite not scoring) were at their two-way best against the Ducks, Johan Franzen seems to have finally supplanted Tomas Holmstrom as the Wings’ immovable object in front of the net and the defence is elite calibre led by Nicklas Lidstrom and Brian Rafalski. The Blackhawks are better in net with Nikolai Khabibulin as opposed to the Wings’ Chris Osgood, but that won’t matter- Osgood has shown to be up to the playoff task and the Wings are just too great an overall team (not to mention experienced) to let this young, plucky Blackhawks team get in their way. Detroit 4, Chicago 2

Stanley Cup Finals

(W2) Detroit Red Wings vs. (E4) Pittsburgh Penguins

Here we go again...Detroit vs. Pittsburgh. The donnybrook resumes again. The pieces look to be there for a good final as both Pittsburgh and Detroit have looked terrific in this playoff season, but only the Wings can say they’re better than they were last year. That said, the Penguins do have an element of grit that they didn’t have last year, and that should give them a bit of a fight this year. However, playoff series are ultimately won on talent, and Detroit just has too much of it for Pittsburgh to handle. Detroit 4, Pittsburgh 2


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