Conference Finals Coin Flip
May 15, 2010 by Big Tony
The second round of this year’s Stanley Cup Playoffs created history exactly the way the NHL promised it would be made. We saw the two time defending Western Conference Champs not only get dethroned but almost swept out of the playoffs by San Jose who defeated Detroit in five games. At the same time while the Red Wings were being disposed of the San Jose Sharks put themselves into the third round of the playoffs for the first time in team history which dates back to 1991.
Also out west, despite dominating Chicago in game one, the Vancouver Canucks were ousted from the post-season for the second straight season at the hands of the Hawks. Many felt at the beginning of the playoffs (and certainly after a subpar opening round) that the Hawks would have little chance of significant playoff success. There would be no way that Antti Niemi could outduel Gold Medal winning netminder Roberto Luongo right? The hockey world could not have been more wrong as Niemi held is ground on one end while Luogno was schooled for the second straight season by a highly talented Chicago team.
This now sets up an all chalk Conference Final pitting the top-seeded Sharks against the two seed in Chicago. Only one point separated the two clubs in the regular season so does either squad have a marked advantage over the other? The simple answer to that is no. Both teams have a fair amount of playoff experience on their respective rosters as well as star power. Chicago has played one more playoff game than San Jose so neither team comes in having significantly more rest than the other. Each squad has also been solid defensively so any goaltender advantage one might expect San Jose to have essentially has gone by the wayside at this point in the post-season. There isn’t even an advantage for either team special teams as both are about as successful as the other in both power play conversion percentage and penalty killing. So for no other reason than I picked them to win the cup at the beginning of the year I’m going with the Chicago Blackhawks to represent the west in the Stanley Cup Finals.
As compared to the west, the eastern conference has been a completely different story. Montreal and Philadelphia have flipped the conference upside down pitting the two lowest seeds in the conference against one another for a chance to advance to the Stanley Cup Finals; each team making history in its own way.
The Philadelphia Flyers did it the hard way taking the road less traveled by dropping the first three games to Boston. They then went on to win the next three games to force a game seven in which everything looked to be going against them as they spotted Boston a three spot once again but this time on the scoreboard. However, much like the rest of the series, Philadelphia never panicked but simply chipped away at Boston one goal at a time before ultimately winning game seven and the series 4-3. The Flyers became the third team in NHL history to overcome a 0-3 deficit to win the series once again allowing the NHL to live up to the promise that history will be made.
The Montreal Canadiens took a hard route themselves by overtaking the top-seeded Washington Capitals and then the defending Stanley Cup Champion Penguins. Not only did the eliminate two extremely talented squad but they had to stave off elimination on five different occasions between the two series. The Canadiens do not have a lot of depth on their roster but what they lack in depth they made up in playing disciplined defense, tremendous goaltending, and of course 12 goals from Michael Cammalleri doesn’t hurt. There is no doubt that Montreal would not be where they are today if not for the incredible showing by Jurosloav Halak in every big game they have had so far. Halak has been replaced twice in this post-season but has returned both times to steal games and the spotlight making him the early favorite to win the Conn-Smythe trophy.
Perhaps the one similarity between the finals in the east and the west is that both teams are about equal to one another on paper; but that’s about it. Neither Montreal nor Philadelphia is oozing with star power so both have to rely on playing disciplined hockey in order to advance to the Stanley Cup Finals. Despite their similarities the one advantage Philadelphia has over Montreal is that they are a much more physical team. A larger reason Montreal was able to outduel both Pittsburgh and Washington was that both teams were about putting the puck in the back of the net, whereas the Flyers are about putting the other team on their butts and then going to score goals. In order for Montreal to win they have to get another incredible showing by Juroslav Halak, but Philadelphia does not need Leighton to be incredible behind them for the Flyers to be successful. For those two reasons I’m picking the Philadelphia Flyers to win this battle of scrappy clubs and represent the east in the Stanley Cup Finals.