Saturday, May 16, 2009

Day One-Hundred Twenty-Five: The people have spoken!

The world wants less hockey, more Robbie out of this blog!

Okay, okay. You win.

Starting tomorrow. ;-)

Sorry, folks, but you know this is the playoffs. And they've been hecka AWESOME playoffs. Plus, tomorrow starts the conference finals, and if I don't post my preview before game one of Chicago/Detroit, people will think I'm a poser. Or something like that.

Anywho, this won't take too long. There are only two series left to talk about. (Oh, you want my preview for the Aeros? Um...they're already down 2-0 to the best team in the league, a team that is healthier and better rested than we are. I don't expect it to go more than five games. Here's hoping the one Aeros win is Wednesday, when I'm there!)

Now, I was only 2-2 in the second round, correctly picking Pittsburgh and Detroit, but wrongly choosing Vancouver and Boston. Still, I'm 9-3 overall, so I'm feeling pretty good at this point. For the conference final, I'ma start in the east.

This is an awesome matchup. Don't let the seedings fool you; these were probably the two best teams down the stretch. Plus, they've knocked off the #1 and #2 seeds, respectively, to get here, and those wins weren't no fluke, folks. In both cases, experience won out, as both former Cup-finalists (winners, in Carolina's case) had to win a game seven on the road to move on. Tight. Both teams have a spectacular-yet-unsung defensive corps patrolling the blueline. (Scuderi, Letang, Eaton, Corvo, Gleason, Babchuk--these are not really household names in many places) Both teams are riding young goalies who have "been there before" and are playing like it. It's like nothing rattles either of these teams. The Penguins obviously have more top-end talent, but the Hurricanes are getting big contributions from guys you might not expect. (I'm looking at YOU, Jussi Jokkinen!) Both teams have one of the famous Staal brothers, and they're probably going to be matched up against each other quite a bit, with Eric being Carolina's best offensive center and Jordan being Pittsburgh's best defensive center. Awesome. It's hard to believe Carolina was eighty seconds away from elimination against New Jersey couple of weeks ago. It's hard to believe Pittsburgh was down two games to zero to Washington ten days ago. That shows the strength of character these two teams have.

I have to give the edge to Pittsburgh in this series--and that's no slight to Carolina, I promise. The Pens have more goal-scoring depth among their forwards, and when you stack the Penguins top-end talent up against that of the Canes, well, Pittsburgh comes out on top there, too. I'm going to call defense and goaltending a wash. This series comes down to the forward depth of the Penguins, and the unbelievably consistent Sidney Crosby. I know, I know, Mr. Hype. Thing is, the Kid is delivering this playoffs. He's not a human highlight reel like #8 for the Caps is, but he does whatever it takes to win. And the team has totally been following his lead. It'll take everything the Canes can muster to contain Sid, and if they do...hello, Evegni Malkin! I'm not taking anything away from the star power of Eric Staal, but he's not Alex Ovechkin, and the Pens have seen that. Nor do I mean to imply that the Canes' top two lines can't take over a game, but they're not as tough to defend as Philly's were.

One bright spot for Carolina: if Pittsburgh's Sergei Gonchar is more hurt than the team is letting on, then Pitt's powerplay could really stumble. Special teams are the difference in a lot of series, especially the further you go into the post-season. And, the Hurricanes have a knack for beating teams that are supposed to be much better than they are, so you really can not ever count them out. Nevertheless, my pick is Pittsburgh in six.

Okay, this is really a flip of a coin to me. Chicago shouldn't have gotten by Vancouver, at least I didn't think they should have, but not only DID they, but they were also the only team to close out their opponent in less than seven games last round(it took them six). So that's worth noting. A lot of people expected the Blackhawks to be "Scary good," but I don't think anyone expected them to be THIS good, THIS soon. Next year, sure, but not yet. Credit the kids, though. And by "the kids," of course I mean Kane, Toews, Versteeg, Keith, Seabrook--heck, even Byfuglien (which I generally hear pronounced BUFF-glen. Really? BUFF-glen?) Throw Cup-winning goalie Nikolai Khabibulin behind them, and you've got a team with the talent to win it all. BUT...once again, the road to the Cup leads through Detroit. The Wings have won four cups in twelve years, and there's a reason for it. They're a machine. They're consistently good. Every man does his job to a "T". It's absolutely sickening if you're a fan of any of the other 29 teams in the league. And it doesn't appear that it'll be changing anytime too soon, either. The Wings had one question mark headed into the post-season, and that was in goal. Well, Chris Osgood HAS won two Cups as a starter; turns out a mediocre (okay, bad) regular season doesn't mean squat to him. No questions there. There's really not a glaring weakness to this team. And yet...didn't eight-seed Anaheim just take these guys to seven games and bang them around quite a bit? Might that have some lingering effect as the series drags on?

As I said, this one is a flip of the coin. I think one of two things will happen. Both involve Detroit jumping out in the lead. Either Detroit will take control early and polish off the Hawks in five games, or else the Hawks will manage to hang close, possibly winning one of the first two games in Detroit (though not necessarily), come out flying at home, and wear the Octopus-slayers down as the series goes to six or seven games. I think the lack of experience only hurts Chicago in this case if they fall too far behind and start to scramble. That said, I have no clue which of the above scenarios will happen, but I have to make a choice, so....Chicago in six.

Pittsburgh-Chicago final. Awesome. Hope I'm right, won't be shocked if I'm wrong. ;-)