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March 20, 2019
Conference Finals Preview
by Michael Menser Dell, Editor-in-Chief
Key Matchup: Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook have handled Jarome Iginla and those creepy Sedin twins, but who do they target now? The Wings have four stud forwards, and they aren’t scared to scatter them on three lines. Meanwhile, Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane will get Nicklas Lidstrom each time out. Advantage Detroit.
Player to Watch: Dustin Byfuglien has been a disruptive force in each of the first two rounds. Just ask Roberto Luongo. Byfuglien needs to get in Chris Osgood’s kitchen early and often. It’s not like any of Detroit’s defenders are going to punish him for it.
Prediction: Detroit has a huge advantage in experience. And Mike Babcock should eat Joel Quenneville’s lunch. But Anaheim showed the way. Chicago has to make this chippy. With Byfuglien, Ben Eager, and Adam Burish, the Hawks have the necessary muscle to mix it up. I really like Chicago’s roster. The Hawks have a nice mix of skill, size, and toughness throughout the lineup, and Khabibulin ain’t no joke between the pipes.
The Hawks have to remember it’s a seven-game series. Too often, teams play Detroit and get caught up trying to win each individual game, hanging around just long enough to lose on a late power-play goal or some other assorted monkeyshine. Then when the next game starts, they think, “Well, we were close. Let’s stick with the game plan.” And Detroit, of course, steals another win, and it’s too late to mend.
Forget the scoreboard. You’re allowed to lose three. But those losses have to mean something. Chicago’s only intention should be pain. The Hawks are the younger, bigger, stronger team. Punish the Wings from the opening faceoff to the final horn. Make it a battle of attrition.
The Hawks need to think of those two games in Detroit like the opening rounds of a fight. Go to the body. Put in the work. It’ll pay off in the end.
Chicago can win this. But do the Hawks know how to win yet? Calgary and Vancouver lose to everybody. Detroit is the champ for a reason.
While I’ll be rooting like hell for the Hawks, I’m going to pick Detroit. Two reasons. One: I’m hoping to jinx them. And two: I want the Wings to lose to someone else…
Detroit in six.
Key Matchup: It has to be the Staal boys, right? You probably haven't heard this yet, and I'm sure it won't be mentioned at all during the telecasts, but Carolina's Eric Staal is actually the older brother of Pittsburgh's Jordan Staal. Honest. I rib you not.
Big brother Eric is going to have to go nuts if Carolina has any prayer. The Canes are 7-0 in the postseason when Staal scores. They’re 1-6 when he doesn’t, and Carolina scored just nine goals in those six games. Stop Staal, you stop the Canes. And as Pittsburgh’s shutdown center, Jordan will have a chance to strike a blow for little brothers everywhere.
Pay special attention to draws. Eric is dreadful, winning them at a 42.5-percent clip. Jordan checks in at 51.2 percent for the playoffs. Kid Crosby is the top draw man in the series, owning a 53.2 faceoff percentage. Look for Dan Bylsma to exploit that mismatch whenever possible.
Player to Watch: Cam Ward. If Carolina is going to win, Ward will have to steal at least three of the four victories. And he’s certainly capable. He’s 9-3-1 lifetime against the Penguins, and he had a .956 save percentage against them this season. That’s trouble.
For Pittsburgh, this could be Geno Malkin’s time to shine. Crosby carried the Pens past Washington. Now it’s Geno’s turn.
Prediction: As a Penguin fan, Ward scares me. He just always seems to have Pittsburgh’s number. Of course, he’s never had to play them seven straight games, either.
Crosby and Malkin are matchup nightmares. Carolina simply doesn’t have the horses. And once Staal is eliminated, who’s going to score the big goals for Carolina? Jussi Jokinen? Sergei Samsonov? Chad Larose?
Fleury just got done looking at Alexander Ovechkin, Alexander Semin, and Viktor Kozlov for seven games. Those are three of the scariest wrist shots in NHL history. Before that, it was Jeff Carter and his widow maker. Now he’s supposed to be scared of Chad Larose?
The Flyers and Caps had seven 30-goal scorers. The Canes have Staal. That’s not enough.
I keep going back to the last time these two teams met. Pittsburgh dominated the game but lost 3-2 in overtime because Cam Ward stood on his head. Can he do it four times? I doubt it.
Pittsburgh in five.