The Stanley Cup conference finals begin today with the Chicago Blackhawks visiting the Detroit Red Wings, and the Carolina Hurricanes and Pittsburgh Penguins ready to roll on Monday night. The schedules for both series are here.
So with trips to the Stanley Cup Finals on the line, we've reassembled our collection of
knuckleheads NHL expert pundits to offer their opinions on these two intriguing matchups. And, in some cases, to atone for picking the Blues over the Canucks and the Sharks to win the Cup.
Picks ahoy. Wait ... people are actually picking the Blackhawks?
And here ... we ... go.
Greg Wyshynski, Editor, Y! Sports Puck Daddy blog
Penguins in six over Hurricanes; Blackhawks in seven over Red Wings
Let's start with the West, because I'm sure you'd like to know how the genius that gave the world Blues over Canucks came to the conclusion that Chicago's going to beat the Stanley Cup champions. (That St. Louis thing was an unfortunate pick that has obscured the fact that I'm ahead of James Duthie, Bob McKenzie and John Buccigross in the standings. Woot.)
If this were the first round, it's Detroit in a walk. But now the Blackhawks know they belong on this stage. They know they can win elimination games in unfriendly environs like Calgary. They know they can play with legends like Jarome Iginla(notes) and rattle goalies like Roberto Luongo(notes). Nothing that happens in this series, other than a 3-0 deficit, will convince them otherwise.
Chicago is a team that should give the Wings trouble much like Anaheim did: Offensively gifted but rugged and gritty. They've won fire-wagon games and they've won chess matches. And while Nikolai Khabibulin's(notes) not been Jonas Hiller(notes) in the postseason, he's been outstanding when they've needed him. Plus, the Blackhawks are one of the fastest teams in hockey; watching Game 6 against the Canucks felt like the fast-forward button was stuck on the DVR.
So I like Chicago over Detroit. And not just because I think Scotty Bowman has lent more than his considerable gravitas to the Chicago front office. But mostly because of that.
I broke down the various reasons why the Penguins will win their series in the preview, but there are exactly two ways the Hurricanes can win this series. First is to have Cam Ward(notes) steal it, and he's played well against the Penguins over the last two seasons. The second is to do what the Capitals couldn't do and what the Flyers didn't do consistently enough: Pressure the Penguins in their own zone with a forecheck that either wears down the defense or forces Marc-Andre Fleury(notes) into mistakes. Carolina can score the dirty goals the Capitals didn't.
The former could happen. The latter is contingent on the Penguins allowing Carolina to dictate the flow of the game. And if they didn't allow Ovechkin to do that, they sure as hell aren't going to allow Ray Whitney(notes) to do it.
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Sean Leahy, Associate Editor, Y! Sports Puck Daddy blog
Penguins in six over Hurricanes; Red Wings in six over Blackhawks.
My Wings justifications can be found in the series preview.
While what the Hurricanes have done to this point is phenomenal, do they have enough in the tank to win four games against a determined Pittsburgh team? Cam Ward will be a huge factor for the 'Canes if they're going to make the Stanley Cup. If he can't handle what the Penguins are going to bring, they'll be in trouble. How do they plan on stopping a Sidney Crosby(notes) that's currently on an amazing tear.
The Penguins need to not let Marc-Andre Fleury handle the puck. His mistake in Game 7 against the Capitals didn't mean much at that point in the game, but his shakiness handling the puck has not hurt him in a major way yet. Crosby is already on a tear, but if Evgeni Malkin(notes) can show everyone why he won the Art Ross Trophy during the regular season, this might end quick.
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Dmitry Chesnokov, Puck Daddy writer
Penguins over Hurricanes in six.
The Penguins showed in the series against the Capitals how disciplined they can play in defense. Defense wins cups, remember? Rob Scuderi's(notes) job on Alex Ovechkin (ka-ching) should give him more confidence dealing with Eric Staal(notes). If Sidney Crosby packs the tent and the campfire he set up in front of Varlamov and moves it to Ward's crease area, no heroics from the Hurricanes' skilled goaltender will extinguish that fire. Ward should win one or two games for the 'Canes. But if the Penguins continue peppering him with shots, just like they did against Washington, fatigue will set in, the hurricane will weaken and will give way to the march of the Penguins.
Red Wings over Blackhawks in seven.
I have to admit that I really like Chicago's young "swords-above-our-heads" offense driven energy. The NHL have the series to keep their ratings high and riding that bandwagon. Khabibulin will provide what Chicago needs to take the series all the way to Game 7. Kane, Toews and Sharp will fool Osgood more than once. But in the end I think we will end up with the rematch of last year's Stanley Cup Finals. Pavel Datsyuk(notes) should finally end his postseason slump, and Marian Hossa(notes) will not fail the opportunity to prove that he did not take the discount from the wrong team.
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The Two-Line Pass, "What We Learned" Columnist
Out West, I've got the Red Wings in seven.
Since I obviously picked them to get bounced in the first round (slick call, buddy!), the Red Wings have exceeded my expectations. Meanwhile, I did indeed pick the Blackhawks to make the conference finals based on what I felt was the relative weakness of their potential opponents. So while the Red Wings have and likely will continue to play at a high level, even if they do it a little nervously, there is something to be said for playoff experience, of which the Blackhawks' best players have little.
This doesn't preclude the ever-lingering threat of Chris Osgood(notes) completely melting down becoming reality, nor does it mean that Pavel Datsyuk won't suddenly start playing like he's, y'know, Pavel Datsyuk again. But it does mean that Henrik Zetterberg(notes) and Johan Franzen(notes) will own the Blackhawks like they did in the regular season series, in which Detroit won five of six and Franzen and Zetterberg combined for 5-6-11.
In the East, put me down for Pens in six.
I think Cam Ward can steal two games but the Carolina defense won't be able to deal with Sid Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, the latter of whom still has 19 points in 13 playoff games, and seven in the last three, despite all the talk that he hasn't brought it. And if the Pens' defense can quiet Alexes Ovechkin and Semin, then I don't think there's going to be a problem shutting down Eric Staal (who hasn't been seen since Game 4 against Boston) and, I dunno, who else? Jussi Jokinen(notes), I guess?
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Matt Sussman, Puck Daddy live blog warden/quipster
Blackhawks in four.
The law of averages (subject to a $5,000 fine, 30 days in jail and mandatory appearance in two Paul Rudd films) says that after a series of amazing, amazing action, there will be a huge letdown. Half of the fans will see their boys enjoy the limelight on network television. but briefly, even though they deserved so much more. Wait, this is a blog about "Pushing Daisies," right?
So this one's a short series, and I give the claymore-sized edge to Chicago. Here's why. One, because I want to see exactly what it takes to get my girlfriend to force me to sleep on the couch. Two, baseball had the Colorado Rockies and Tampa Bay Rays. The NFL had the Arizona Cardinals. The NBA had ... well, no, actually it properly fixed big-market teams to reach the Finals. It's about time another hard luck team sees its moment in the non-basic cable sun.
Penguins in six.
Why six games? Because six games is what everyone always picks when they have no cotton picking idea who will win. Seven games is too optimistic. Five games seems like too much of a blowout. A four-game sweep is called usually by fans who admire their own realities, or for those that just want to tick off their hockey lovin' hunnies. But six games displays a modicum of credibility when a hunch is all they have. Throw out no less than three and no more then five of the following terms:
• veteran leadership
• star power
• know how to win
• good matchups
... and then you have yourself a fantastic, ironclad prediction.
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Hextall454, Puck Daddy fantasy hockey columnist
Chicago over Detroit in six; Pittsburgh over Carolina in seven.
The first prediction isn't so much a vote of confidence in Chicago as it is a vote of uncertainty for Detroit. Yes, yes, taking the buzzsaw to the poor Blue Jackets was fun, but a tough series in Anaheim showed that this may not be the team that rolled to a Stanley Cup last year. The Blackhawks are young and they are deep -- only their top D pairing plays over 20 minutes a game and no forward more than 17. And just think -- the farther Chicago can advance, the more SportsCenter anchors we get to see mispronounce "Jonathan Toews," further cementing ESPN's inability to cover a sport they do not hold broadcasting rights to.
After enduring two marquee rivalries on which the NHL shone their spotlight, the Penguins now go to battle against the Carolina Hurricanes, a red-headed stepchild of a team that Gary Bettman has done his best to order upstairs anytime guests come over for dinner. Cam Ward and friends have been making most of their share of the 378,000 seconds of the Stanley Cup playoffs -- waiting until the final shifts to send New Jersey and Boston packing. There's no reason to think they can't do it again -- that is, except that the Pens refuse to go away. Finally, the Penguins win a series on home ice.
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(And finally ...)
Sarah Spain, Mouthpiece Sports contributor
Penguins defeat Hurricanes in seven.
The Hurricanes and the Penguins split their regular season four-game series two games apiece, each winning one game on the road and one at home. The 2006 Conn Smythe trophy winner Cam Ward has been stellar again in this postseason, but will Ward have an answer to the deadly duo of Crosby and Malkin? The "brothers as teammates" bit may have been killed off with the Sedins' exit, but the brother v. brother story line of the Staals is alive and well. The Er-Jordan show (see what I did, there?) is sure to produce the always popular jersey foul of a parent wearing one half of one child's jersey and one half of the other's. Eric Staal will make things interesting, but Sid the Kid (12 goals, 21 points already in this postseason) will be the real hero in this one. Bottom Line: Pens offense too much for 'Canes defense.
Blackhawks defeat Red Wings in six.
At first glance, it looks like this series is Detroit's to lose. The more experienced Red Wings took the regular season series 4-games-to-2 and they have those four magical words preceding their name: "Defending Stanley Cup Champions." Look a little deeper and you'll see that this young, fast, skilled and incredibly deep Hawks team has all the weapons necessary to upset their Original Six rivals. Kane and Toews have grown up overnight, Jesus Havlat Christ will do anything (including walk on [frozen] water) to give the 'Hawks a win and the 'Bulin Wall has been just that.
Bottom Line: Chicago got goals from all four lines in its series with Vancouver and it'll have too much firepower for the aging Wangs.
I said it before and I'll say it again: Yeah I'm a homer. Suck it!
Also: Detroit Sucks.