Sunday, May 17, 2009

NHL Conference Finals Preview

So after a flurry of wonderful game sevens on the ice (okay the Pens-Caps game was a blowout, but as a Pens fan it was pretty amazing), the final four in hockey is set. I didn't watch the Ducks and Red Wings game seven but only caught the highlights. Due to crappy programming on the part of Versus, I only caught the OT of the Canes and Bruins game. I was happy to see the Canes win for my own selfish reasons as I thought it would be an easier draw for Pittsburgh and because, hell, they are from North Carolina. That said, a matchup of the Pens-Bruins to go along with the Wings-Hawks would have made for a classic matchup of hockey's long standing pillars. Also, if you check out part one of Sports Guy Bill Simmons' podcast with Dave Dameshek (check it out at the Sports Guy's homepage on ESPN), he elaborates on the idea I mentioned a few posts back of moving teams from the south to Canada. As usual Simmons and Dameshek share some great ideas. I wish I could somehow get on his podcast and talk sports (probably NFL or NCAA basketball with Simmons). If you're reading this Mr. Simmons that was a hint.

Anyways, depending on when you read this, the puck may have already been dropped in game one between the Blackhawks and the Red Wings, and the Pens and Canes face off Monday night. I wanted to post this a day or two ago but apparently you're supposed to study for the MCAT. Anyways here is my breakdown of the two conference final series .

Detroit Red Wings vs. Chicago Blackhawks
Look, I'll be straight with you all, I know very little about this series. Most of what I know about the Red Wings comes from last year's final. In that final they methodically took apart the Penguins. Detroit has respectable talent, but really what makes them so formidable is how smooth they look on the ice. They certainly can get physical (just look at their series vs. the Ducks) but they move the puck so much better than most other teams. They have a talented netminder in Osgood and the pickup of Benedict Hossa (he claimed he left the Penguins for the wings to win a Stanley Cup) this season has provided them with potent offense. All I know about Chicago is that they haven't won a Cup in over 40 years (perhaps its because the logo has a complacent smile, put on your game face somewhat offensive logo!). On the plus side no one in chicago notices as that is to Cubs streak as Muggsy Bouges is to Shaq (yeah I just referenced Muggsy). The Blackhawks finished their series much faster than the Wings so they may be a little more fresh. I think due to determination and fresher legs they jump out to a 2-1 series lead before falling to the Wings. Red Wings in Six

Pittsburgh Penguins vs. Carolina Hurricanes
I will be wearing my Penguins shirt all week here in Chapel Hill, where we actually have a decent amount of Hurricanes fans. While the fact that the Hurricanes are the best professional franchise in North Carolina is depressing on multiple levels, I have to give the people up here in the triangle area props. While most of them may have never played hockey, the Canes have developed a following perhaps more loyal than any sports team in North Carolina since the Hornets (I'm flicking you off right now George Shinn). I will fully admit I just jumped back on the hockey bandwagon two years ago when the Penguins first made the playoffs with Sidney Crosby, but I actually did cheer for the Penguins back in the mid 90's when they were led by Super Mario Lemuix, and perhaps my favorite athlete ever to wear a mullet, Jaromir Jagr. Anyways, the NHL has slowly been creeping back into national attention and the amazing series between Ovechkin and Crosby certainly helped (game seven was a dud but game 6 was one of the best I have ever seen, I was in the midst of a poker game and losing chips like crazy, as I was mainly just paying attention to the TV).

As far as this series, the Pens still could use a little more fluid puck movement, but with Crosby, Malkin, and Staal the Penguins have the most talented group of centers in the game. Fleury did a great job in goal in game seven, but still can be shaky from time to time. The Canes have less starpower and less offensive prowess but have gritty defense and a very good goalie in Cam Ward. Many players on the canes were with the team when they won the Cup in 2006, so they won't be overwhelmed by the stage. Ultimately this series will go the distance but I wouldn't bet against number 87 for the Penguins, who has a fire in his eyes that is not too unlike that of a certain Mr. James in the NBA playoffs.
Penguins in Seven

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