10 Things We’ve Learned Halfway 2 The Stanley Cup
Total Pro Sports – After the thrilling victories of Detroit and Carolina Thursday night, the Conference final match-ups have been set. In the East, the Pittsburgh Penguins are back to defend their title against the Carolina Hurricanes, while the Detroit Red Wings will look to do the same against their rival, the Chicago Blackhawks. Should the Penguins and Red Wings win their respective series, it would be the first time since 1984 that two teams will meet in the finals back-to-back seasons. Back then it was the Edmonton Oilers claiming revenge in ’84 after being beaten by the New York Islanders the previous year.
Now that this marks the official mid-way point of the playoffs, with a two day break to come we thought this would be a good time to bring you TPS’s version of the “Top 10 Things We’ve Learned From NHL Playoffs…Halfway 2 The Cup”:
10. Osgood is Still Good –With A 2.43 Goals Against Average in the second round, Red Wings goalie Chris Osgood may not have been “great”, but he sure was good enough. Playing on a team with as much fire power as the Red Wings, all that is needed from Chris is a steady performance. Expecting three goals a night is a reasonable task for the Detroit snipers, and as long as Osgood continues to be good and keep his GAA under 3.00, the Wings hopes of repeating as champions will remain alive and well.
9. Luongo and Brodeur’s performances will raise question marks – With the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver less than a year away, the debate on who will play for their respective countries has already begun. Canadians love to play this game, and it has just got a lot more interesting. The one position that seemed to be sorted out a month ago was between the pipes. With Roberto Luongo and Martin Brodeur tabbed as one and two (not sure which order though), the only debate was over the number three spot. How things have changed. Brodeur allowed two goals in the final minute of game 7 against Carolina in the first round, and Luongo looked like a thin slice of swiss cheese every time Patrick Kane had the puck in Vancouver’s game 6 loss to Chicago. Could this mean there is an opening for the likes of Cam Ward and Steve Mason? To be continued.
8. Although seeded 8th, the Ducks are the West’s 2nd best team – After defeating the NHL’s top team in the San Jose Sharks in round one, the Ducks proved it was no fluck as they took the Red Wings to a game 7, which was tied late before Cleary’s controversial goal. Their defense was among the best, along with Detroit and Chicago’s, and the top line of Perry-Getzlaf-Ryan will be a force for years to come. If the team sticks together, expect them to be much improved in the 2009-2010 regular season.
7. Speaking of Cam Ward, he gives Carolina a legit shot at winning the Cup– He is once again making a name for himself as one of the most clutch goalies in the NHL. Some may not remember in 2006 when he came in to replace Martin Gerber after the Canes feel into a 2-0 deficit against the Montreal Canadiens. Ward would lead his team past the Habs and to the Cup that year, and it appears he looks poised to do the same this time around as well.
6. Ovechkin is great, but Sid is even better– What a battle it was, and when the dust cleared, it was Sidney Crosby left standing. This was one of the most remarkable series ever played in the NHL playoffs and both superstars (and let’s not forget Malkin) should be applauded for their strong play, but the winner is the one who guides their team on to the next round, and that was Crosby. Some have argued before that Crosby has better players around him, but that is hardly true anymore. Compare line-mates: Crosby with Guerin and Kunitz, or Ovechkin with Backstrom and Kozlov. Tough, but I think I’d take the latter.
5. Hockey is alive in Chicago thanks to some kids – Playoff hockey is back in Chicago and they have a special crop of young talent to thank for that. The likes of Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews and Brent Seabrook, among many others, are leading this surprising team into a date with the rival Detroit Red Wings. In order for Chicago to take that next step towards building a champion, they have to show that they are the top team in the Central Division. Their first chance begins on Sunday in Detroit.
4. Detroit is 4 Lines Deep Up Front – At this point in the playoffs, it becomes necessary to use a complete bench as much as possible. While their counterparts in the next series (Chicago) can utilize a strong four-line rotation, no one can do so like the Detroit Red Wings. With a Samuelsson, Hudler, Filpulla, Draper, and Maltby floating around their bottom two lines, the Wings can threaten goalies for a full 60 minutes. And lets not forget the speedy Darren Helm. His goal on the breakaway was just a sign of things to come from this up and coming star. On any other team in the league, he’s playing on the top two lines right now.
3. Eric Staal vs Crosby may be able to duplicate Ovechkin vs Crosby – OK, so maybe this is asking for a bit too much, but don’t expect the battle between Eric Staal and Sidney Crosby be a slouch in comparison. Stall has show that he can light the lamp in the playoffs, and he even did so up against the best defender in the NHL in Zdeno Chara. There are no Chara’s on Pittsburgh, but they have been playing a solid ‘team defense’, which somewhat slowed Ovie down later in their series with Washington. What Eric will have to likely deal with is younger brother Jordan, who has become an effective shut down man. For this series, Jordan Staal will be looking for his brother Eric to falter in favor of Crosby. Wonder what Mark is thinking about all of this.
2. The Bulin Wall may have lost some bricks, but it’s still there – He may be shaky at times, but with his team scoring in the bunches, and showing resilience in their numerous comeback efforts, all that has been needed from Nikolai Khabibulin are some timely saves, and that he has provided. The Chicago keeper out-dueled the NHL’s top goalie (according to most) in Roberto Luongo, and now he will have to be even better this round against the Red Wings.
1. If Hossa and Datsyuk start clicking, there may be no stopping the Wings – Every team always has a chance to win, especially when you have Crosby and Malkin, or a goalie like Cam Ward. But the Wings have made it to this point beating a very strong Ducks team without the offensive help of superstars Marian Hossa and Pavel Datsyuk. After 11 games, Hossa finds himself with 4 goals and Datsyuk with only 1. Luckily Franzen continues to be a playoff scoring machine with 8 goals. They have been playing solid hockey and have seen their chances come, but if Hossa and Datsyuk begin to find the net on a regular basis, there may be no stopping the Wings. Although, I would assume Sidney Crosby has something to say about that.