Detroit Red Wings (2) vs Pittsburgh Penguins (4)
Here we go again! The 2008 Stanley Cup Finals were so exciting we figured we'd do it all over again. Why not? Its good for ratings, good for the NHL, good for the fans... not so good for people like me that like BOTH teams, but whatever. I can endure a knotted up stomach and a painful headache for a couple weeks for the good of the game. With the way the NHL scheduled the games, the players will have to endure a lot more than what I'm going through. Despite both teams finishing off their conference finals opponents in quick fashion, both teams will be thrown right back into action this weekend with back to back games to boot. This bizarre scheduling could also affect the outcome of the series. Penguins defenseman Sergei Gonchar is playing with a bad knee and playing 3 games in 4 days at this stage in the season won't help. As for Detroit, they are currently without team captain and Norris Trophy candidate Nick Lidstrom as well as MVP and Selke candidate, Pavel Datsyuk. Both teams, Detroit especially, wouldn't mind having a few extra days to heal up, especially since both had a short offseason and are now here again.
Forwards: The Penguins have two of the best offensive forwards in the game today and they are both currently on fire. Their talent has sparked others and made them legitimate scoring threats as well. On the other side, Detroit has entire roster full of two way forwards led by the two best in the league, Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk. Under no circumstances can I see the Penguins having the edge in this category. While Pittsburgh's forwards mirror that of the 1980's Oilers, the Wings are built and play just like the 1970's Canadiens with the defensive forwards that can also score goals. Defense wins championships.
Defensemen: People will make the argument that Detroit's defense isn't as good as it was last year and that's true, its not, but that doesn't make it bad. As long as Nick Lidstrom is wearing the winged wheel, Detroit will have one of the top defenses in the league. The Wings second pairing of Kronwall and Stuart is better than most teams first pairings. The Penguins have a solid defense themselves, however each defenseman serves a specific role whereas Detroit's defensemen are more well rounded. Assuming Lidstrom comes back off his injury and isn't limited, the Wings win out here.
Goalies: Statistically, Chris Osgood has been the better goalie in these playoffs, however, I don't know if you'll find many people out there that would rather have Ozzie over Marc Andre Fleury. Fleury, all by himself, can steal a game which is one of the reasons why the Pens are so tough to beat. He does have his occasional lapse here and there and will give up a softie, but for the most part, Fleury is on his game and a tough playoff goalie to beat. Meanwhile, Chris Osgood has 3 Stanley Cups and still no respect. He's not the type of goalie to steal a game, but he is the type of goalie that won't cost your team a lot of money and does what is necessary to win games, year in, year out. He's not as flashy as Fleury, but he's just as effective. Still, I'm giving the advantage here to the Penguins.
For the Penguins to win this series: They need to harness all that emotion and hunger they have and use it in this series. The Pens are the younger, hungrier, healthier team and will want it badly. Guys like Talbot, Fedotenko, Satan, Kennedy, Staal, Kunitz, Guerin will all need to play at a higher level to overcome Detroit's depth advantage. If they can do that and Crosby and Malkin can continue to play at the high level they're at now, the Pens will win the series.
For the Red Wings to win this series: They need to be healthy. They won't beat the Penguins with 47 year old Chris Chelios playing defense. They need Lidstrom and Datsyuk. With these two in the lineup, Detroit will be able to nullify Crosby and Malkin, which would seriously cripple the Penguins ability to score goals. At that point, Detroit can use their superior depth to overwhelm Pittsburgh and win the series.
Prediction: With so many unknown factors going into this, its tough to say either way. If the Wings are healthy and Osgood doesn't have a meltdown, they'll take this series in 5 games. If they're not healthy, this will be a 6 or 7 games series and I think if it gets to that point, the Pens may have more in the tank to win it in the end, but really its a toss up. My official prediction is the Wings will get healthy and win back to back Cups.
The eliminated teams
Chicago Blackhawks - Ohhhhh those young Blackhawks. They came in ready to light the world on fire and instead got lit on fire by the defending champs. This Blackhawks team has a lot of good, young talent and will be in the playoff picture for years to come, but as far as the Western Conference Finals were concerned, they were taken to school. They didn't seem as desperate to win as the Wings. They didn't seem to go the extra mile. I read a quote from Patrick Kane saying that he's "here to score goals, not block shots". Its the playoffs, you do whatever is necessary to win. If it means sticking your face in front of a shot, you do it. This year's Hawks were compared to last year's Penguins by many, but this Chicago team is no where near as mature as the Pens.
While they have a bright distant future, they have a rocky near future. Chicago has over $12 mil tied up in two goalies, neither of which played well in the playoffs and $7 mil wrapped up in Brian Campbell who had a let down season and a forgettable playoffs. The Hawks have a lot of money invested in players that really aren't worth what they're being paid and with guys like Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews approaching new contracts, one has to wonder what lengths Chicago will go in order to free up money to keep those two under the salary cap. They will have some interesting decisions to make in the next couple off seasons.
Carolina Hurricanes - Wow! What can you say about the Canes? They upset the Devils and Bruins in back to back series, then play probably the worst round of hockey I've ever seen against the Penguins. After two energy draining 7 games series, the Canes just simply didn't have it for this round and at no point in this series did it look like it was coming back. Crosby and Malkin just did whatever they wanted and Cam Ward played like he was "unconscious" in goal. Eric Staal, who had been a beast for the first two rounds, registered just two points and finished with a -7 rating. The Canes were lucky to be where they were, plain and simple. This is a two man team. Staal and Ward and that's it. Ward was off his game big time and Staal, with no one to pass to, was just swarmed by the Penguins defense. First up in the off season, sign Ward to a long term deal. He was amazing up until the Conference Finals and if Carolina ever wants to even think about returning to the Finals, they need to have him signed long term. Second, give Eric Staal someone to pass to. The poor guy is out there, basically by himself. Give him a legitimate scoring threat and it would do wonders for this club. If neither one of those are done, they may as well change their colors to dark blue, green and gray and move back to Hartford.