NHL Conference Championships

MJ KasprzakSenior Writer IIMay 5, 2008

Now that the epic four-overtime series clincher is over and everyone has had a chance to catch up on their sleep, we can look at the next round. 

In my initial picks, I had six of the eight first round teams advancing, but only Detroit making it this far and advancing to the Finals.  My other final three are out, so take these picks for what they are worth.

Red Wings-Stars:With all due respect to all of you Red Wings' fans who think because your team swept a Colorado Avalanche team with so many future Hall of Famers on it, let me put things in perspective.

  1. These are not your father's Avs.  They are your grandfather's.  Okay, not the Wings' grandfathers', since they are even older than the Avs.  (Chris Chelios can tell you about living under Ramises, and he's still in better shape than I ever was!)  It's one thing to beat Peter Forsberg in 1997, and quite another now.  Adam Foote used to be one of the top three defensemen in the league, now he's just another guy.
  2. Partly because of #1, they were breaking down.  Too many guys were being asked to do too much, and even some of their younger players were hurt.
  3. They did not have Patrick Roy, or really any semblance of him.

Last year, virtually the same Anaheim roster Dallas beat in six games less Matthieu Schneider beat Detroit in six games, getting a road win without Chris Pronger.  Dallas was just severely tested (once the Sharks showed up) and is very well-rounded.  They have far superior goaltending and are a lot more physical, which is usually important in the playoffs.

That being said, Detroit has more skill and depth than any team in the league, they have home ice advantage (and it really is an advantage in late rounds), and they are rested.  For some teams, that many days off might have a negative effect in the first game, but the Wings are too veteran to be affected by it.  Moreover, the Stars may get worn down at the end of a long series, so...Wings in seven.

Penguins-Flyers: Pittsburgh was very impressive in taking out a skilled and experienced Rangers squad.  They responded after surrendering three goals early in game one to win and only lost one in Madison Square Garden.  They are getting big play from their big two centers, Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, and enough secondary scoring to win most games, too.

The Flyers eliminated the top seed in the East with almost equal ease.  They are a scrappy team that does not mind getting their hands dirty, and they have more players with experience at the deep levels of the playoffs.  Both goalies have been playing well but are wild cards because they have not been counted on this deep before. 

But the Flyers were the fourth-best team in the same division as the Penguins, who obviously only failed to get the top seed because of superior competition.  (And tanking the last game of the regular season, but that's another story.)  There is a reason for that.  An intra-division much less intra-state series usually means an extra win for the less talented team, but...Penguins in six.

Now for the tough part.  How good are Pittsburgh and Detroit, and how much of their success has come from being untested?  I believe the Rangers were probably better than the Avs, and the Penguins had less trouble with the Senators than the Wings had with the Predators.

However, I think the West is superior in general, so if you can make it through the West without being beaten up, you are the best team in the league.  While Dallas is pretty physical, they are not grinders like Calgary and Anaheim, and the Wings can have enough left to show up strong in the Finals.

Moreover, the Penguins are not ready to win it all.  They need to get there to learn how to handle the pressure and intensity of that level.  They do not have the depth of the Wings, especially on the blue line.  Other than Gary Roberts, they do not have the urgency either--this team is so talented they will have many chances for a Cup, but how much longer can Chelios play?  (Really, I would like to know!)  Thus, my champion is the Red Wings in seven.