The final four teams have kicked-off their best of 7 series and I can't help but forecast a Detroit - Pittsburgh Stanley Cup Final. These are two of the most dynamic teams in the NHL today.
Very few have the depth, skill and raw talent that both the Red Wings and the Penguins have. Don't get me wrong, Dallas and Philly are no slouches, not by a long shot. They do have some playoff experience and some role-players that work hard in the trenches and win battles. At this stage there are no cake walks for any team.
Let’s compare the match-ups as I see them.
Dallas simply isn't deep enough to hang with Detroit shift after shift, and they lack the speed to match Detroit’s fast paced offense. Ribiero and Morrow, both who seem to be firing on all cylinders right now, have the potential to keep the games close. They need to get more offensive activity from their other lines, for Modano to pick up his play, and they need impeccable goaltending from Turco if they want to squeak some wins out of this best of 7.
Philadelphia has a big, strong team. They have a lot of imposing forwards who can win battles in the corners and along the boards. They get a little offensive spark from Briere and Prospal but Umberger has realy stepped up his all-around game here in the playoffs. If they keep playing their hard nosed style and get extra points from their role-players they could give Pittsburgh a tough time.
Look for their stronger players to team up against Malkin and Crosby. They'll be trying to rattle their cages and distract them from playing their game.
Detroit, the best team in the league during the regular season, seems virtually unstoppable in the playoffs. Osgood is on fire and when a seasoned vet like Ozzy gets on a roll, a team can ride him all the way to the finals. If he can continue to keep teams to 1 or 2 goals a game, the Red Wings will fly through this round.
This team is about as well balanced as any coach could ask for. They have speed, discipline, experience, aggressiveness, as well as offensive and defensive power. All that and then add two seasoned goaltenders and you have the formula for a championship team.
Pittsburgh is my Cinderella team. Crosby is accomplishing what he came to Pittsburgh to do. Luckily, management has surrounded him with some serious talent who can pick up the slack if "Sid the Kid" gets neutralized by the opposing team. Something that has been nearly impossible to accomplish all year. Even if he's not putting up points he's still effective in every other aspect of the game.
The Penguins’ getting a hold of Malkin and Hossa has been a death blow dealt to all opposing defensive crews. Goaltenders go to bed at night and have nightmares about the pens offensive core. This team has some of the greatest young talent in the league, from the blue line, to the face-off circle, to net minding. Roberts and a few other vets add a little grit and experience to the line up.
All this makes them, truly, a force to be reckoned with. If the Pens don't hoist the cup this year ... expect to see them making another impressive charge towards Lord Stanley's Cup over the next few years. I predict a dynasty in the making.
All in all, this will be an impressive round of hockey. I'll be peeled to the tube every chance I get. Like most years though, it'll come down to who wants it more and which team comes ready to play at their highest level every night.