Conference Finals: Pittsburgh Penguins – Carolina Hurricanes Preview
|Playoffs||Goals/GM||GA/GM||PP Pct.||PK Pct|
|Hurricanes||2.36 (10)||2.29 (3)||10.4% (14)||90.7% (2)|
|Penguins||3.46 (3)||2.92 (11)||19.7% (7)||81.6% (7)|
The highly anticipated Eastern Conference Finals features two youngsters between the pipes – Cam Ward against M-A Fleury. Although Fleury has been phenomenal (especially during overtime), the Hurricanes get the edge in this category. Simply put: the Canes are in this position because of Ward’s out-of-this-world play. Not only is Ward a heavy favourite to win his second Conn Smythe as playoff MVP this year, but he has also made a great case for himself as the third goalie on Team Canada for 2010. Steve Mason who?
The Hurricanes’ group from the back-end has a mixture from all the necessary categories. Scoring from Corvo and Pitkanen, sandpaper and grit from Seidenberg and Wallin, and overall steadiness from Babchuk and Gleason (usually). Seidenberg has been the x-factor thus far, elevating his play substantially as the team advances deeper into the playoffs.
As far as the Penguins are concerned, they may be a bit more gifted offensively thanks to Gonchar and Letang, but after that there is a large drop off. Orprik provides a big presence to clear bodies away from the front of the net, but that’s it really. Hall Gill was slow and washed-up years ago on the Bruins, Eaton isn’t anything to write home about, and Scuderi should be playing for Wilkes-Barre Scranton. What scares me here is Gonchar’s injury, as there is no telling how serious it actually is, or if we are one more bump away from Alex Goligoski time.
This is where Pittsburgh has the advantage – offensively by a large amount, but not by that much defensively. The Pens’ top forwards including Sid the Kid, Malkin, Guerin, Fedotenko, Jordan Staal and Kunitz provide plenty of scoring, with Cooke, Kennedy, and Talbot chipping in away from the puck. The acquisitions of Guerin and especially Kunitz have proven to be the perfect pieces of the puzzle, both jelling seamlessly with Crosby and friends.
Carolina’s top scoring forwards include Eric Staal, Jokinen, Whitney, and LaRose. With Brind’Amour (providing his “face” injury is healed in time), Ruutu, Cole, Cullen, Walker, and Samsonov providing some offense here and there, the Canes have a nice source of secondary scoring. As much as I would like to give this category a split decision, a team that boasts two of the top three regular season and playoff scorers should get the edge. Sorry.
Assuming Gonchar remains healthy, Pittsburgh’s power play definitely takes the cake here. Kunitz has been a force in front of opposition goaltenders, waiting to cash in a loose rebound from Malkin and Sid. Letang has proven to be Ryan Whitney 2.0 on the back-end and is proving to be a nice little quarterback alongside Gonchar. With two of the best players in the league on your power play, how can you go wrong? For the Canes, Corvo and Pitkanen provide a solid presence from the point, with Eric Staal running the show upfront.
As far as penalty killing is concerned, the diminutive Chad Larose has turned into the second coming of Bob Gainey. Just kidding, but he is pretty darn fast and a good penalty killer. Add in Rod the Bod, Eric Staal, Rutuu, and Walker, and you have a speedy group that can kill quite effectively. Pittsburgh’s PK group usually features Jordan Staal, Talbot, Kennedy, Fedotenko, plus Crosby and Malkin. The Canes get the edge for the PK, but overall Pittsburgh wins this category based on their PP’s strength.
The only way the Canes are winning this series is if Can Ward steals the show and out-duels Crosby, Malkin, et al. With strong defensive play in front of him, this is possible, but not likely. Pittsburgh’s offensive firepower will be too much for the Canes to overcome, with the Pens advancing to meet the Red Wings for a re-match of last year’s battle for Lord Stanley’s mug.
Winner: Pittsburgh in 6.