Pens-Canes Battle for Eastern Conference Title
May 18, 2009 by Big Tony
The Eastern Conference Finals start tomorrow night between the defending Eastern Conference Champion Pittsburgh Penguins and the last team to win the Stanley Cup out of the east in the Carolina Hurricanes. These two teams may not have the natural rivalry Pittsburgh had with Washington but there is plenty to keep us entertained. Most notably is the sibling rivalry that puts Eric Staal (Carolina) against brother Jordan Staal (Pittsburgh) for the first time in the playoffs. While there no doubt the utmost respect between the brothers anyone who has a sibling knows that there’s nothing like beating a sibling and claiming bragging rights in the family. There is also the Pittsburgh connection that Hurricanes assistant coach Ron Francis has as he won two Stanley Cup titles with the Penguins in 1991 and 1992. But the best motivation for each team is the fact that this series is for a chance to play for the Stanley Cup! No professional hockey player needs any more motivation than that. So let’s take a look at each team, their respective keys to victory and my prediction of how this series will turn out. [After going 4-4 in round one the sportsroids.com predictions are now at 7-5 and looking to improve!]
The Carolina Hurricanes are only three years removed from hoisting the Stanley Cup and still have a number of members from the 2006 team on the 2009 version which is an invaluable asset. The most important of that group is Conn Smythe winning goaltender Cam Ward. Ward has been the key to Carolina’s success all year long; he has been the reason they qualified for the playoffs and why they were able to advance past both New Jersey and Boston, two teams who many had going to the Finals. In order for Carolina to have any chance of defeating Pittsburgh Cam Ward must be top-notch. Carolina simply does not have the fire power to outmuscle Pittsburgh in an offensive shootout so it is imperative that Cam Ward shuts them down. Aside from Ward the Hurricanes will have to make use of their speed and grit to be victorious. The Canes do not have a whole lot of size so they will have to use their speed to create scoring chances and make sure they get optimal scoring performance from Eric Staal and Jussi Jokinen just as they have thus far in these playoffs. Carolina will also need to use their speed to be gritty down low in both zones and be the first to loose pucks in the neutral zone and in the defensive zone. But even if Carolina does all that if Cam Ward isn’t almost perfect they still won’t win.
The key for Pittsburgh? Surprise Surprise, it’s get to Cam Ward! We know the star power that exists on the Penguins and their ability to get secondary scoring from people all over the line-up. Generally speaking the Penguins simply need to keep playing the way they’ve been playing throughout the playoffs and also need to have Fleury return to the form he was in against the Philadelphia Flyers. One can talk about strategy from the Penguins’ prospective all day long but the bottom line is they need to get to Cam Ward. If Pittsburgh makes Cam Ward look human they will advance in the series with little trouble; if they don’t the series will go a long way, Pittsburgh will start to get frustrated and before you know it Carolina will be headed to the Stanley Cup Finals. Despite all that, barring major injury, I don’t think Carolina matches up well with Pittsburgh and although the games will be very close it will be Pittsburgh advancing to the Stanley Cup Finals defeating Carolina in five games. And so for the second it will be the Pittsburgh Penguins taking on the Detroit Red Wings for the right to hoist Lord Stanley’s Cup.