Saturday, May 16, 2009

Here We Go Again: the Conference Finals

From a hockey purist's viewpoint, those NHL conference semifinals were amazing. Three of the four series went the distance and the other one was a hard-fought, back and forth six-gamer. I can't honestly say the best teams won because I still think the Bruins are the 1B team to the Red Wings' 1A in the league, but I suppose you could argue the best teams right now are all moving on.

While I don't claim to be some sort of Nostradamus or even the only one who picked a finals rematch, but I did predict a Wings-Pens Stanley Cup Finals for the second year in a row at the beginning of the season. It looked like a mistake in the middle of the season, but the Penguins' new coach Dan Bylsma has really lifted that team and they look as strong as ever.

I picked three of the final four according to my second round picks (even though I had both the 'Canes and the 'Hawks out in my first round picks), and I am not too surprised with how the series went. The Wings had a long battle with the Ducks and won because they were the better team. The Penguins did the same with the Capitals, but showed a slight chink in their armor when they couldn't close out the series at home in game six. The Blackhawks beat the Canucks and I still don't care, and the Bruins crushed the Hurricanes in three games. Shit, they had to win four? got me. I'm still shocked that the Bruins lost to the 'Canes; I really am. They were better for every second of the three games they won, but fell asleep every once in a while in the four games they lost. Plenty of my friends are heartbroken and disappointed, but the Bruins have a bright future ahead. It's too bad they couldn't make it further in the playoffs, but they'll be back in the next few seasons to come; that I am sure of.

Looking forward, these are two interesting matchups to try and sift through. There are little nuances that make me think they could both go the opposite way that I'm predicting, but in the end I think I'll come out with two correct choices. Let's dive in.

Eastern Conference Finals

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

The Pens look strong. Marc-Andre Fleury is playing well and has the capacity to steal games, and Crosby and Malkin are two of the game's best scorers. They have depth with Jordan Staal, Bill Guerin, Chris Kunitz, and Kris Letang and a solid core of defenders led by Sergei Gonchar and Ryan Whitney. That said, they also have the tendency to give up a lot of goals every once in a while and can be overcome by speed and resiliency. The Hurricanes never say die; they have a very good goalie in Cam Ward (who is 4-0 in game sevens and has never lost a playoff series in his career) and a great mix of talent and veteran guys. Eric Staal is only a small step below the guys like Crosby and Malkin, and Rod Brind'amour wins a ton of faceoffs is a tested playoff guy. I didn't even realize he was still alive this year until I saw his ugly mug on the bench in the Bruins series. Yikes. Anyway, this series could really go either way. I can't believe the Hurricanes won the Cup two years ago, then missed the playoffs two years in a row, and are now in a good position to try and capture another championship, but it's happening so it's hard to count them out now. On the other hand, Pittsburgh has the experience of last year's playoffs and a great young team that will be very hard to slow down. I'm going to go ahead and pick the Pens in a short one, but it could easily be a long series with the Canes coming out on top. Pittsburgh in five.

Western Conference Finals

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

Well, the NHL certainly did a great job in getting two teams I venomously hate to play the Red Wings back-to-back in the playoffs. Nice work. It helps my blood pressure go off the charts when I'm playing an opponent I can't stand. Last year, that happened in the first two rounds with the Predators and the Avs, but I don't really hate the Stars or Penguins so those rounds weren't as exciting on the hate-scale. Last series though, was absolutely ridiculous. Every game I wanted to see the Ducks die on the ice, especially Sasquatch and Corey Perry. They drive me insane. The same goes for the Hawks, but on a smaller scale. I don't like 'em one bit, and with each game these Chicago fans and Toews and Kane lovers are making me sick. Toews is not pronounced Taves, first of all. I hate that. And he's not the second-coming of Steve Yzerman, like many Chicagoans have said, because that would literally be the second-coming of God and I just don't see an idiotic Blackhawks youngun constituting such incredible rapture. So, knock that off. Stevie Y is the one and only; you'll just have to get used to that.

See what I mean? All this nastiness and I haven't even started in on the actual series yet. I'll get to it, I swear. But first, look at Patrick Kane. He's 11 years old. He shouldn't be in the NHL. His whining antics about hating Detroit sports teams is cute, but his super-cool Power Rangers backpack (the hologram changes when you move it!) and life-supply of fruit snacks and pudding are evidence enough that he's just a kid. I can't wait to see his crying face when the Blackhawks lose; I wonder if he'll use his first swear word if they get swept!

In all seriousness, I hate Nikolai Khabibulin the Blackhawks are a solid young squad. They have offense, defense, goaltending, and special teams. They don't have experience like the Wings do, but I feel like their puppy-like energy and comeback potential will limit the effect of not having any playoff experience. The Red Wings are just really, really freakin' good at everything, and they should win every seven-game series they play. It's that simple right now. They might not win, but they should. And with that as my basic argument, there's no way I can pick a close one. Pavel Datsyuk will do much better this series after struggling against Anaheim's burly defenders, and the rest of the offense will provide enough support to drown the 'Hawks. The only way I see the Blackhawks winning this series is if they rebuild the 'Bulin Wall so that he can handle 40 saves nightly and manage to get a couple goals at the right time each game. They absolutely cannot win a scoring race with Detroit like they did against Vancouver. They will be swept or forced to forfeit if they try that route. But, it doesn't matter; the 'Hawks are the Wings' bitch, and that's not changing in 2009. Detroit in six.

It all starts tomorrow. Go Wings.

No comments: