Well here it is folks. The race for the Stanley Cup is down to its final four, with the Pittsburgh Penguins and Carolina Hurricanes vying for the Prince of Wales Trophy (awarded to the Eastern Conference champion).
No. 4 Pittsburgh Penguins vs. No. 6 Carolina Hurricanes
I’m hearing alot of confidence from alot of the Pittsburgh fans. I’ve got to stress that Carolina is no pushover. They are a solid hockey team with the hottest goaltender in the league.
This series is destined to go at least six games, maybe seven. Lucky for the Pens is the fact that they earned that No. 4 seed. Had it not been for the New York Rangers beating Philadelphia on the last day of the regular season, we may not even be here right now.
Nevertheless, it’s off to the conference finals. Here’s how I feel about the upcoming series …
My suggestion: remember to breathe.
There were countless moments in the Pittsburgh-Washington series where I realized I stopped breathing. I was so focused on the game that my only movement was that of my eyes following the puck.
If this series is anything like the last, there could be a slew of heart-attacks in Pittsburgh region.
On the surface, Carolina doesn’t appear to have the threatening scoring talent that Washington did. There’s no Alex Ovechkin-type player for the Hurricanes.
However, there’s more than one guy that has been getting it done for them. We all saw that when you neutralize Ovechkin, you neutralize the majority of Washington’s offense.
The Canes, on the other hand, aren’t as easy to silence. Eric Staal (13 pts.) has been great, with nine goals so far in the playoffs. He is followed by scoring depth in Jussi Jokinen (6G + 4A), Ray Whitney (3G + 6A) and Chad LaRose (2G + 7A) pitching in. Sergei Samsonov (6 pts.) is another big threat, scoring a goal in four of his last five games.
When you look at the Pens, most of the offense has come from the big guns — Sidney Crosby (21 pts.) and Evgeni Malkin (19 pts.). After those two, production drops off drastically. Sergei Gonchar (10 pts.) and Kris Letang (9 pts.) are both in the top five in scoring for Pittsburgh.
While it’s nice that there are defensemen stepping up in the scoring department, it would be more encouraging to see guys like Jordan Staal (2G + 3A) and Chris Kunitz (7A) put pucks in the net.
I think they can and I believe that will be a determining factor in the series. When the Pens are at their best, they have three threatening scoring lines. In my opinion, there’s not a better third line in the conference when Matt Cooke, Staal and Tyler Kennedy are clicking.
Ultimately, though, I think goaltending will be the biggest factor. While Marc-Andre Fleury struggled against Washington, Cam Ward continued to be brilliant between the pipes against Boston.
Ward’s 2.22 GAA and .927 SV% are much better than Fleury’s numbers — 2.72 GAA & .901 SV%. You can argue that Fleury faced better goal scorers, but Ward’s performance against Boston is hard to diminish.
It’s understandable that Fleury had trouble stopping Ovechkin. Penguins fans need to hope that’s the reason his numbers took a dip in the second round. Flower showed up in game seven with some big saves. His confidence to start this series is huge.
As I stated in the introduction, home ice for the Pens is a huge boost. Carolina became a tough place to play as the regular season wore down and has continued to be in the playoffs.
The Canes are 4-2 on home ice so far in the playoffs. Add to that the Penguins record in Carolina since the 2006-07 season — losses in five of the last six games — and home ice will play a huge role.
I said before the playoffs that there’s no team that the Penguins can’t beat four times in seven chances. I still feel that’s the case.
I’m expecting Fleury to have a solid series. He coming off a confidence-boosting performance in game seven of the second round and has the chance to start this series on home ice. He played three games against Carolina this season and posted a 2.00 GAA and .937 SV%.
Also, it doesn’t appear that Crosby and Malkin are going to slow down any time soon. All bodes well for the Pens.
All the Penguins need to do is win at home. It’s easier ssaid than done, but they can get it done and possibly even steal one in Carolina.
Penguins in 6.
As to who they’ll face in the finals? I hate looking that far ahead, but I would love to see a rematch in the finals. For all Pens fans, beating the Wings and Hossa would be the sweetest feeling of all.
This one’s going to be fun to watch! I hope you all enjoy it as much as I do! If you’re going to any of the games, let us know. We would love to post any game pictures! Either myself or Dan will likely be at each home game.
LET’S GO PENS!
Chris | PPT