I wasn't the only one predicting long and arduous series across the board, but I was way off in the conference semifinals.
Everyone wanted to see a classic Detroit-Colorado rivalry. Everyone expected the New York-Pittsburgh series to go seven games. Few thought Montreal-Philadelphia would end as it did, and most knew Dallas-San Jose would be tough.
I should have known to pick Detroit and Pittsburgh, but didn't.
My fatal "sports writer" flaw—not being able to choose the Red Wings for personal not professional reasons—haunted my predictions once again.
All the numbers pointed to Detroit, but I was a spring hockey hopeful like all the rest and, more honestly, I just wanted them to lose. In retrospect, the Avalanche never had a chance, the Rangers looked slow, Montreal and San Jose lost a couple coin flips but in the end simply got out-worked.
I'm not having a great season. In round two I went one and three. Overall my record is five wins and seven losses.
My Pick; Result
• Montreal in six; Philadelphia in five
• New York in seven; Pittsburgh in five
• Colorado in seven; Detroit in four
• Dallas in six; Dallas in six
The good news, of course, is that we're only half way done. Two more series and then the grand finale.
Like years past, we got this far with some obvious results and some unforeseen challengers. It's a tough call as we whittle it down from four to two, so I think it's time to look closely at the numbers to try and sort it out from here.
The Pittsburgh Penguins looked really, really good against the Rangers. They're quick, young, resilient, have great power play, and a goalie that's tops in save percentage (Fleury, .938).
The thing is that Philadelphia's sheet reads exactly the same way. Biron is second in the East (.914 SV percentage) and the Flyer's lead the Conference in power play percentage at 24 percent.
On the other side, the Penguins convert 23.4 percent of their man advantage opportunities, a trivial difference.
The top of the scoring chart, behind a no-longer-playing Jagr, reads like the All-Pennsylvania Team (in order of appearance): Briere (PHI), Malkin (PIT), Crosby (PIT), Prospal (PHI), Umberger (PHI).
It's no wonder these two are meeting here and now. All these stats on paper draw up a high-scoring, goal fest with some amazing moments in net. Yet, this is the Conference Finals and both teams will need to tighten up on defense in front of their hot goalies.
Likewise, the power play and being smart about taking penalties will play a big role in this one. In the nit-pick numbers, the Flyers have a higher "goals for" and a lower "goal diff," but the two are (again) separated by mere decimal points.
Next we take a look at the intangibles.
Philadelphia has to be flying high after knocking off the number one seed with authority and by their enormous reversal from last season. The entire team is gaining momentum and strength, and is surprisingly healthy at this stage of the season.
Pittsburgh's ego is larger, having lost only one game so far, and that was the no-sweep desperation game by the Rangers. They're as solid and cohesive as any unit in the East, and provide a highly entertaining and well-honed game.
There's also the in-state rivalry which Philadelphia took 5-3 during the regular season. It is going to be, I assure you, a great series.
The Penguins have confidence and speed, while the Flyers have momentum and size. In the end the Flyers have Darien Hatcher and he'll do something dumb that'll turn at least a game, if not the series.
Pittsburgh Penguins in seven.
The Detroit Red Wings' cruise through Colorado looked easier than their waltz past Nashville.
After replacing their goalie, the Wings seemed lighter, faster, and scored at will. The inept Colorado offense and their lack of special teams doomed what we thought would be a return to the intense and competitive past.
Trouble is, Colorado is stuck in the past (Foote, Forsberg, Sakic) while Detroit has moved on (Datsyuk, Franzen, Zetterberg).
It's no surprise that those three Wings are atop the Western scoring sheet, with Franzen leading all with 11 goals—nine alone in the last series.
Surprisingly, Dallas' Mike Ribiero has the same number of total points, with Morrow, Richards, and Modano right behind him. As in the East, the top survivors have the top scorers. This is not a big surprise unless you've been following Stars hockey in the last five years.
Their biggest struggle was on offense, giving the defense all the responsibility of winning. Now with some goal support, Sergei Zubov back, and Norstom and Robidas playing well, Dallas is formidable again at both aspects.
That may not be enough to deal with Detroit's front line, but the Red Wings' power play has struggled. Then again, they haven't been needed all that much.
The difficulties for Dallas are three-fold. For one, they exerted a huge amount of energy against San Jose. But if they continue to play at the same level and hit, hit, hit (see games five and six), the Red Wings could get into trouble.
Detroit is not a physical team anymore. To their credit, the Wings prefer an active, possession game, but that's the very style Dallas disturbed and disrupted versus the Sharks.
I'm not sure the Stars can maintain that pace for all the games as they'll need to, but a couple early rough wins would do wonders.
Second, the Red Wings are healthy and waiting to host the series—both big advantages when playing hockey in May. They bring experience, strength, and hope to a city that's been awaiting a return to the Finals for quite some time.
Lastly, Detroit has two good goaltenders; Dallas has one. Trouble is, Turco is winless in Detroit in nine tries, and has yet to play there in the playoffs.
With the last series, he lost his (undeserved) not-a-big-game-winner tag, but he must shake the Detroit omens and win in Joe Louis Arena this series, if the Stars stand a chance.
This is his BIG chance, and mentally he has to get past those demons and pull it off.
Can he? Can they? If Dallas pounds, crashes, and bounces the same way they did last weekend, they may well find their way to the Cup.
That said, Detroit is waiting, just casually hanging out and waiting to show that they, too, can play this game and play it well.
I almost talked myself out of it—Dallas isn't as hopeless as Colorado. I'm going "objective" all the way to Motown.
Detroit Red Wings in six.
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