Sunday, May 17, 2009

Your Peerless Prognostos for the Eastern Conference Final -- Pittsburgh (4) vs. Carolina (6)

The Caps-less round three begins…

Why Pittsburgh can’t lose…

Sidney Crosby is on a mission. 12 goals in 13 games. Now, he didn’t do it against the sturdiest defensive squads in the East, but he’s not playing against such a group in the conference final, either. In fact, Carolina’s defense might resemble Washington’s a little too much for the Hurricanes’ tastes for this series -- not physical enough down low. And Crosby had eight goals against the Caps. As if we needed another Crosby nugget, he went 1-6-7 in four games against Carolina this year.

Marc-Andre Fleury had the curious propensity this year to be either very good against a team, or rather poor. For every 2-0-2, 1.69, .955 against New Jersey, there seemed to be a 1-2-0, 4.50, .881 against Toronto. He was 1-1-1, 2.00, .937 against Carolina this year.

Looking for someone to come out of the blue? Ruslan Fedotenko was 3-1-4 in four games against the Hurricanes this year. And, he had points in four of his last five games against the Caps in the second round (3-2-5).

Why Pittsburgh can’t win…

The Penguins did not play formidable teams in the first two rounds, at least in terms of their recent play, respectively. Philadelphia finished the season 11-10-1 after the end of February, leading up to their first round loss to the Penguins. The Caps – if you buy into the “Southleast” Division description of where they play – played a bunch of patsies the last month (10 of their last 13 games were against Southeast Division teams, against which they went 7-3-0) and struggled against a punchless Rangers team in the first round. This won’t be the case with Carolina – 13-3-2 since the end of February in the regular season and victors over two higher-seeded teams (New Jersey and Boston) in the first two rounds).

The Peerless’ Player to Ponder

Evgeni Malkin

Malkin has 19 points in 13 games, but his performance has the curious look of the underperformer through the first two rounds, perhaps not befitting a Hart Trophy finalist. He came on late in the second round, going 1-6-7 in the last three games against the Caps, including the game-winner in Game 5. He was 2-3-5 in four games against the Hurricanes this year. He’ll need to be at least as productive.

Why Carolina can’t lose

Here is what we said at the top of round two

"On February 17th, the Hurricanes lost a 5-1 decision to Boston in an especially ugly fashion. Playing at home, they scored first, then watched as the Bruins stormed back for five unanswered goals, three of them in the third period, all of them in the last four minutes of play. Since then, the Hurricanes went 17-5-2 to close the regular season, then they vanquished the New Jersey Devils in the opening round with a pair of lightning bolts in the last 90 seconds of Game 7 against Martin Brodeur in Newark. They have played like and have had the look of a team of destiny the last two months."

Add to this the fact that they defeated the presumptive Vezina Trophy winner in round two – Tim Thomas. Think they’ll fear Marc-Andre Fleury? Yeah, me neither.

Why Carolina can’t win…

Pittsburgh was actually a hotter team after February 17th than the Hurricanes (18-3-3 to finish the regular season). This will be a step up in class in opposition for the Hurricanes, as one expects at this time of year. What might work more insidiously against the Hurricanes here is that they are, (a) the second oldest team in average age among the final eight in the playoffs, and (b) they are coming off two seven-games series, both of which involved winning a Game 7 on the road.

The Peerless’ Player to Ponder

Rod Brind’Amour

Brind’Amour was off to the worst season of his career through February 17th. He was 8-21-29, -30 in 56 games, and you’d have to be forgiven if you thought that at age 38 the end was in sight. But he was 8-14-22. +7 in his last 24 regular season games. He had a similar slow start in the playoffs, going scoreless in his first ten games. He did have points in two of his last four games, but his importance in this series is going to be to a large extent his defense. If he can be effective against either Crosby or Malkin, perhaps Pittsburgh won’t have enough underneath support to advance. Hurricane fans hope that puck to the face in overtime of Game 7 against the Bruins won't ruin his movie star good looks... or keep him out of the lineup.

In the end…

These were the best two teams in the East down the stretch in the regular season. Both have struggled in the playoffs to get this far – one team needing 14 games, the other 13. Pittsburgh might be expected to suffer a bit of a let down after “the circus” that was the Washington series. But then again, they’ve been this far before. And, as we said, Sidney Crosby is on a mission.

On the other hand, Carolina has been this far before, too. They are not that far removed from having won a Cup. And, goalie Cam Ward has not yet lost a playoff series in his career. He might not have the star wattage of a Martin Brodeur or the quirky appeal in style of a Tim Thomas, but all he’s done is stop pucks… and he’s still playing, unlike the other two.

In the end, we’re left with a simple credo… “go with the best player.” That’s Crosby.

Pittsburgh in 7

1 comment:

Mark Bonatucci said...

Again no argument with your analysis, but if it get's to a game seven as we've seen so far this post season - anything can happen.

Besides, I'm not like those fols from Bemidji I sat with during the Frozen Four - I can't root for the team that beat us because it'll make us look better. Also I'd like to see the Souteast Division start to get some more respect and I think Carolina in six or less would do that.

In any case if it goes to a game seven the key guy in the series will be Cam Ward, IMHO. I think this series will be good but the Chicago - Detroit match up will be as, if not more, intense.

So I guess I'll be rooting for the Hurricanes here - ironic though it may be...