Only Four Remain: The NHL Conference Finals At A Glance

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Only Four Remain: The NHL Conference Finals At A Glance
(Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)

We’re down to the final four teams in the NHL playoffs after three series that went to seven games. Who will move on to the Finals and take that last big step to having their names engraved on Lord Stanley’s Cup? McMullen’s Musings gazes into its crystal ball again to see who will take that next step:

Eastern Conference Finals: Carolina Hurricanes vs. Pittsburgh Penguins

Why the Hurricanes will win:

Battle Toughness and the Fatigue of the Penguins: In one of the biggest duels in the NHL, Sidney Crosby and the Penguins defeated Alexander Ovechkin’s Capitals in seven games. Obviously, Crosby and Evgeni Malkin can’t carry the team alone, and they’re playing on only two days rest. Can the Hurricanes capitalize on this and defeat Pittsburgh?

Sergei Gonchar’s Knee: Gonchar injured his knee during Game 4 of the Penguins’ series against the Capitals after knocking knees with Ovechkin. He only wound up playing fifteen minutes of Game 7, and that was with a brace. While Gonchar said he was comfortable skating in his brace during the game, it might become a problem if this series drags on for too long.

Cam Ward is slightly better than Marc-Andre Fleury. Ward has a slightly better GAA in the playoffs and a better save percentage to boot. Not only that, Ward has played in two seven-game series in a row (starting all 14 games), which proves his endurance. It’ll be hard for the Penguins to score on Ward, and it might be the deciding factor in this series.

Why the Penguins will Win:

Battle Toughness and the Fatigue of the Hurricanes: Just like the Penguins, Carolina had to struggle through fourteen games to get to this point. It’ll be a question of who can re-energize first. With the Hurricanes having to travel to Pittsburgh, I’d give the advantage to the Penguins.

Carolina’s Struggling Offense: Most of the time, the Hurricanes’ offense is either really good or really bad. A huge factor in this series will be which Hurricanes team shows up in Game 1. If Pittsburgh can keep it close, where they are really good, they should be able to pull it out.

Sidney Crosby: If the Hurricanes are able to defend Sid The Kid, they take a big chunk of Pittsburgh’s offense (33 goals and 70 assists) away. Malkin and Gonchar can’t carry the team, especially with Gonchar’s injured knee. It’s imperative that Crosby dominates early, or it will be a long series for the Penguins.

Prediction: Penguins in six. The Hurricanes are aging, and fourteen games will wear on you, no matter who you are. Pittsburgh is younger, and should be able to overcome their fatigue faster.

Western Conference Final: Chicago Blackhawks vs. Detroit Red Wings

Why The Blackhawks will win:

Physicality: Even though they ranked 27th in the NHL in hits, they’ve ranked third in this postseason. Detroit can’t go into this series thinking they can push this young team around. Otherwise, they could find themselves looking up at the arena lights.

Penalty Kill: Chicago killed penalties over 80 percent of the time. Detroit had one of the best power plays in the NHL, scoring on one-quarter of all of them. Something has to give, and it probably won’t be the Blackhawks’ stifling defense.

The Fatigue of the Red Wings: Detroit, even though they were favored to repeat as Stanley Cup champions, slogged through a seven-game series with the Ducks. On the other hand, Chicago needed six games to defeat the Canucks. With a little more rest, the Blackhawks should be able to skate past the Red Wings.

Why the Red Wings will win:

Khabibulin is aging, and Osgood is hitting his peak: Actually, both players are aging, but Osgood has been consistently good since rejoining the Red Wings in 2005-06. However, Khabibulin hasn’t really been very good since leaving Tampa Bay. The big question will be: can Osgood keep up his consistently good game after the Red Wings’ seven-game marathon?

Inexperience of Blackhawks: Most of Chicago’s players are around 20 years old, and don’t have much playoff experience. On the other hand, Detroit’s roster has enough experience to build two Stanley Cup-winning teams. If they take advantage of that, they should be able to make quick work of the Blackhawks.

Depth! Depth! Depth!: The Red Wings have massive amounts of talent on every line. Past the second line, Chicago doesn’t have much talent. It’ll be interesting to see how Detroit’s depth handles Toews and Kane. Something has to give, and it’ll probably be Toews and Kane.

Prediction: Blackhawks in seven. Youth faces experience in this series. Something has to give, and it’ll probably be the Red Wings. Age should catch up to them after Game Six, and the Blackhawks should dominate.

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