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Red Wings-Blackhawks: Breaking Down the Western Conference Final

Keith SheltonAnalyst IMay 16, 2009

CHICAGO - APRIL 12:  Jonathan Toews #19 of the Chicago Blackhawks faces off against Johan Frazen #93 of the Detroit Red Wings at the United Center on April 12, 2009 in Chicago, Illinois.  (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

Two of the NHL's Original Six will square off in the Western Conference Finals this year. The Detroit Red Wings and Chicago Blackhawks, who haven't met in the postseason since 1995 when they also played each other in the third round.

The Blackhawks have exceeded expectations, taking down the more experienced Calgary Flames and Vancouver Canucks. Chicago's speed and depth proved to be too much for even top-tier goalies, Kipprusoff and Luongo.

Detroit had a relatively easy time in the first round, sweeping the Columbus Blue Jackets before squeaking by in seven games in a heavily contested second round series against the Anaheim Ducks.

This series should provide all the excitement deserving of a conference final. So how do the Red Wings and Blackhawks stack up? Let's take a look.

Forwards

Red Wings

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It has to start with Johan Franzen for Detroit. He has been the NHL's top goal scorer in the playoffs for the last two years with 21 goals in his last 27 games, and was a big reason for the Wings advancing to the third round. His totals against Anaheim were six goals and nine points. He also currently leads the Red Wings with 15 points.

Henrik Zetterberg has also made a big impact this post season. He seems comfortable either playing on the top line with Datsyuk and Holmstrom, or on the second line with Hossa and Franzen. He had three goals and ten points against Anaheim.

Pavel Datsyuk has been especially quiet this postseason and only notched three assists against the Ducks. He seems to be pressing hard and was visibly frustrated by Anaheim's suffocating defense.

However, expect him to break out in the third round as there will be more open space against the Blackhawks. What is often overlooked on Datsyuk is his punishing backchecks.

Marian Hossa also had a quiet series against Anaheim, however he did have a big Game Four. Playing on a surprise line with Franzen and Filppula, Hossa notched two goals in that game, after being robbed in Game Three by a bad call.

Dan Cleary, Jiri Hudler, and Valtteri Filppula all deserve mention as well. Cleary plays extremely well in clutch situations and notched the series winning goal in Game Seven against Anaheim.

Hudler is near the top of the NHL in goals per minute of ice time considering the limited minutes he plays. Filppula is developing into a solid playmaking center.

Tomas Holmstrom should be taking his usual spot, fighting for real estate in front of Nikolai Khabibulin.

Also, be aware of young Darren Helm. There may be no faster player in the NHL. Check out his highlight reel goal in Game Seven against Anaheim when he simply out-skated the Anaheim defense to create his own breakaway and score.

Blackhawks

For Chicago, young Patrick Kane has been a huge offensive spark. The former first-overall draft pick notched a hat trick in Game Six to put away the Canucks and had a total of six points in the second series.

Veteran, Martin Havlat has been crucial to the Blackhawks postseason success. Being one of the only players on the team that has been here before, there may be no bigger x-factor in this third round series than Havlat. He notched six points in the second round and 13 points total to lead this team.

Captain, Jonathan Toews struggled to find the back of the net against Vancouver but came through at a key moment in the series, scoring the game and series clinching goal. Toews and Kane are both playing beyond their young years and don't seem fazed by the bright lights of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Rookie Kris Versteeg might not have put up big numbers against Vancouver but his speed and endurance has helped create plays, and given space he can be a solid scoring threat.

Dustin Byfuglien has curiously taken on a Tomas Holmstrom type role for the Blackhawks. His size and willingness to take some shots make him a good candidate for a net-front player.

Patrick Sharp has an excellent shot and a persistent style of play. He could be looked at as Chicago's Dan Cleary, but with more skill. He is just as willing to do the dirty work to help his team though.

Speedsters Dave Bolland and Andrew Ladd have the ability to create breakaways and jump on loose pucks. They can and will capitalize on mistakes by the opposition and are good scoring threats if Detroit turns the puck over in the neutral zone.

Edge: Detroit

As far as depth goes, Chicago may be the only other team in the NHL who can match Detroit. Detroit can easily roll three lines that can score, much like Chicago. However looking at the top lines, it's plain to see that Detroit's forwards are farther along and more developed than Chicago's. The Blackhawks advantage is their speed. Detroit's is their experience.

Defense

Red Wings

Detroit's Nick Lidstrom is the best defenseman of his era and one of the greatest to ever play. He was Detroit's leading point getter against Anaheim, scoring two goals and seven points, however he was also on the ice for a good amount of Anaheim's goals, finishing as a modest plus-two.

Brian Rafalski missed the first five games against Anaheim, but still managed to get in a fight in Game Six, pretty uncommon for him. Rafalski is a key player on Detroit's powerplay and a very steady defenseman.

Brad Stuart had a great series, finishing at plus-three, and laying down punishing checks, some not quite legal. His timing was a bit off on a boarding penalty on Teemu Selanne.

Jonathan Ericsson played outstanding in Rafalski's absence, playing alongside Nick Lidstrom. He was nearly flawless on his shifts, finishing at plus-four. Not bad for the last pick of the 2002 draft.

Brett Lebda is a hard-working, puck moving defenseman who has the ability to make plays, while at times sacrificing his defensive responsibilities. He is a solid penalty killer though.

Nik Kronwall may have tired towards the end of the Anaheim series, but at his best he may be the hardest hitter on the Red Wings defense. Some question whether or not he leaves his feet on hits. He rarely takes penalties, but took 10 penalty minutes against Anaheim, 1/5 of what he had during the regular season.

Blackhawks

Chicago's Brian Campbell is the veteran leading this Blackhawk's defense and he was near perfect against Vancouver, with five points and a plus-six rating

Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook are the heart of Chicago's defense and both are multi-tooled and solid defensemen. Seabrook contributes on the powerplay and is good, clean checker as well. Keith is fast with a quick shot and a presence on the Chicago blue line.

Cam Barker is big with scoring ability but doesn't always matchup well against opposing quick forwards. The young defenseman is growing into a fine player though as his point totals seem to keep increasing the more he plays.

Edge: Detroit

The second and third pairings of these two teams are even, and again, so is the depth. Detroit's top pairing trumps Chicago's though.

Goaltending

Red Wings

Chris Osgood played above his ability against Anaheim and at times carried the team. He was hung out to dry multiple times in a triple overtime Game Three loss but kept Detroit in the game.

His 2.06 Goals Against and .921 Save Percentage these playoffs show how much he's raised his game from the regular season.

Blackhawks

Nikolai Khabibulin had a couple shaky outings against Vancouver but came through in a key Game Four. With Chicago facing the possibility of going down 3-1 to the Canucks but stoned Vancouver into overtime to preserve a win. He also had an impressive 43 saves in Game Six at Calgary to close out the Flames, showing how clutch he can be.

Edge: Even

Both goaltenders have won Stanley Cups, and while both are prone to breakdowns at times, both are also capable of raising their games in clutch situations. This will be a good matchup to watch.

Intangibles

Red Wings

Detroit has just taken out their biggest rivals in a hard fought seven game series. No matter who they face the rest of the way, the road will be slightly easier.

Blackhawks

Chicago has exceeded expectations and had a dream-like season. Chicago hasn' been this alive for hockey in over a decade. They've gone from rock bottom under previous ownership to one of the brightest teams in the NHL

Edge: Detroit

There is no greater feeling in hockey than defeating your biggest rival in a Game Seven.

Coaching

Red Wings

Detroit's Mike Babcock is playing in his third straight conference final which is unprecedented in the cap era. He is arguably the best coach in the game today, having won eight of his last nine playoff series.

A master of line changing, he employs short shifts of 30-40 seconds and even threw a curveball against Anaheim, unveiling the Franzen-Filppula-Hossa line eight minutes into Game Five.

Blackhawks

For Chicago's Joel Quenneville, this is his second trip to the conference final. He has never coached a team past this point, and this may be his best opportunity to do that. An excellent builder of teams and a great inspirer, Quenneville may not have tons of accolades but is one of the better motivators in the game.

Edge: Detroit

Unfortunately for Chicago, this appears to be a lopsided coaching matchup.

Prediction

Chicago has tons of speed and is brimming with confidence but they haven't really been tested like Detroit has. They are a very skilled young team and their time will eventually come, but not this year.

Detroit in five games.

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