The NHL Conference finals begin Sunday at 2 p.m. with the Chicago Blackhawks traveling to Detroit to play the Red Wings. The East finals kick off Monday at 6:30 p.m. when the Carolina Hurricanes travel to Pittsburgh to play the Penguins.
A case could be made for each of the final four teams to make it to the finals and take home the Stanley Cup. The one commonality that each team has is a goaltender with quality playoff experience.
After picking seven of eight first round match-ups correctly, I was only successful picking Detroit over Anaheim in the second round .
As a Western Conference fan, I am looking forward to the match-up between Central Division rivals, Detroit and Chicago. Chicago is the surprise team in the West after defeating Calgary and the Vancouver Canucks to make the finals.
The Blackhawks are a very young, exciting team, that offers explosive scoring from Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews and Patrick Sharp. They are solid in goal with Nikolai Khabibulin, who won the Cup with Tampa in 2004.
The Red Wings went to seven games with Anaheim in the second round before Dan Cleary scored the game winner with three minutes left to send the Wings to the finals. Detroit, the defending Stanley Cup Champions, is solid in all aspects of the game.
Detroit’s goaltending was somewhat suspect during the season, but Chris Osgood has returned to playoff form through the first two rounds. The Wings have had balanced scoring and solid defense and never appeared to be challenged in spite of going seven games with Anaheim.
It has been said that Chicago’s team is so young that they don’t realize how much pressure that they should feel at this point in the playoffs. The Wings, with their experience, will know how to bring on the pressure. I’m picking the Wings in six.
In the East, the Carolina Hurricanes are a surprise finalists after beating New Jersey and Boston. They were not a lock for the playoffs until the final weeks of the season. Pittsburgh, who went to the finals last year, has been a favorite from the start of the season and defeated Philadelphia and Washington in the early rounds.
Over the last two months, the Canes have been on a roll and has played as well as anyone in the playoffs. Goalie Cam Ward has returned to the form that led the Hurricanes to the Cup in 2006.
The Penguins have exceptional scoring ability but their soft spot is in goal, where Marc-Andre Fleury, in spite of his Cup finals appearance last year, can seem very average at times.
I think that the emotional run that Carolina has experienced may be exhausted and the powerful scoring attack of the Penguins will lead to a Stanley Cup rematch between the Pens and Wings. I have Pittsburgh winning in six games.
I will be back again in a couple of weeks with our final projections of the season in the Stanley Cup finals.