Stanley Cup Preview Archive
Chicago Blackhawks vs. Philadelphia Flyers
After sneaking into the playoffs by winning a do-or-die shootout on the last game of the regular season, the Philadelphia Flyers have skated through three rounds of the NHL postseason, and will now play the Chicago Blackhawks in the Stanley Cup finals.
The Chicago-Philly showdown isn't the championship matchup that analysts expected, but that doesn't make it any less dramatic. The Blackhawks finished the regular season with 112 points - the third most in the NHL - but the Flyers have shown again and again that they can defy all expectations and topple the league's top teams.
Philadelphia, a seven seed in this year's playoffs, had to vanquish the New Jersey Devils and come back from a three-game deficit to beat the Boston Bruins before defeating the Montreal Canadiens to make the finals.
Chicago, a number two seed, had to go through the Nashville Predators, Vancouver Canucks and San Jose Sharks, behind Jonathan Toews' seven goals and 19 assists. The Blackhawks may be favored, but that means little to a Philly team that has rallied behind the smash-mouth play of captain Mike Richards to battle through the season and playoffs.
Chicago and Philadelphia played once during the regular season, when the Flyers edged out the Hawks by the score of 3-2 on March 13.
Pittsburgh Penguins vs. Detroit Red Wings
The rematch is on. For the first time since 1984, the same 2 teams return to the finals. The Penguins and the Red Wings will once again duel for Lord Stanley's cup. The Penguins road to the finals was uneven at first, but finished with a resounding 4 game rout of the Hurricanes. The Red Wings opened the NHL playoffs with a rout of their own against the Blue Jackets, but were taken to 7 games by the Anaheim Ducks. The Blackhawks tried to put up a fight, but the Wings took them down 4 games to 1 to return and defend their title. In the two teams first meeting in 2008, the Penguins made it a 6 game series, and the matchup this year looks just as strong.
Chicago Blackhawks vs. Detroit Red Wings
These are clearly the two best teams in the Western Conference. Both are well coached, have Stanley Cup-winning goalies, have underrated defenses, and have plenty of outstanding offensive playmakers. These teams also have a long standing rivalry. The last time the Blackhawks won a championship was in 1961, when they defeated the Red Wings.
Many do not believe that the Blackhawks will be able to keep up with the Red Wings explosive offense; however, they are lead by defenders Brian Campbell and Jonathan Toews, who were big forces in their previous two playoff series. The team really needs Martin Havlat to continue his amazing hot streak in the playoffs in order to compete against the Red Wings. Havlat leads the team in playoff scoring, and he has 26 points in his past 22 Stanley Cup playoff games. He has proven to be an amazing commodity in the postseason for Chicago. The Blackhawks have to hope that he can keep his momentum going.
The Red Wings are a great team with a defense that has skill and mobility, which could create problems for the Blackhawks. The Wings' offense is also a little deeper than the Blackhawks. Johan Franzen and Marian Hossa match up well against a Hawks defense, and Detroit should be better prepared for this series. Also, as important as the depth of the Red Wings bench is, the fact is this team is the defending Stanley Cup Champion, has the experience, and knows what to expect this deep into the playoffs.
The real question for the Red Wings entering into the conference finals is the success of their star player Pavel Datsyuk, who has not had good playoffs thus far. This may be attributable to bad match-ups in his previous two series. However, he is too good to be struggling as much as he has. He should be able to take advantage of the Chicago defense and have a big series.
This should be a very physical series, with a lot of big hits, and a lot of action packed games. In the end, the experience of the Red Wings will be the deciding factor. The team has been able to advance this far without a stellar performance from Pavel Datsyuk, though the team as a whole has not missed a beat. If Datsyuk can get going, this series will not last long and the Red Wings will be defending their Stanley Cup Championship.
Pittsburgh Penguins vs. Carolina Hurricanes
These are the two best teams in the Eastern Conference right now, and they are definitely experienced when it comes to playoff hockey. Comparing only skill levels, the Penguins have the clear advantage; however, the Hurricanes are led by goalie Cam Ward, who can change a series in the net. If Ward can neutralize the Penguins scoring threats, than the Hurricanes will have a shot.
Penguins are faster and more explosive than any team the Hurricanes played in the playoffs thus far, and a significant challenge for the Carolina team. There is no team in hockey can match the Penguins offense up the middle with its big three of Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Jordan Staal. The one weakness that the Penguins team has is a lack of anyone on the sides that can score like the Big Three can. Also, the Penguins defense has struggled in the playoffs mostly due to star defender Sergei Gonchar playing with injuries. However, if the offense can pick up the slack, the team should have no problem with their weakened defense.
The Hurricanes are a veteran team with a very good defense and a great goaltender. It can be argued they have the most balanced team in all of hockey, with a great combination of grit, skill, and right- and left-handed shots. They also have a star in Eric Staal to compliment very good role players. However, Cam Ward is definitely the wild card for the Hurricanes. Ward has been in enough big games to be considered in the upper tier of NHL goalies, and is able to change the dynamic of the game every time he is between the posts. Carolina has a much more physical defense than the Penguins have faced all year, which could create big problems for Pittsburgh.
The series really comes down to how Crosby and Malkin play for the Penguins, if these two young stars are able to bring their best games, then the Hurricanes will not be moving to the next round. If Crosby and Malkin are playing their best, there are not many teams that are able to keep up with them. Goalie Cam Ward can only do so much against these superstars, he will need the help of his defense and even that might not be enough against the high octane offense of the Penguins