What better way to end the Western Conference for these two teams than to play each other? These teams are long time rivals and faced off 6 times in the regular season, with the Red Wings coming away with a 4-2 record (2 in OT).
Oddly enough, their paths to the Conference Finals are pretty much identical. Both teams faced great goalies that didn't have much offensive support around them and were constantly under pressure because of this. This will also be the first time that both of these teams will face an offense that is so high powered. Let's take a look at the keys to success for each team though:
(Since I've already written a preview of the goalie match-up, I'll leave them out of this post.)
Three Keys to Chicago Success
Kane & Toews- These two young stars are among the best in the league and are pure scorers. For Chicago to win this series they both have to come through early. Kane exploded in the final game of the Vancouver series for a hat trick while Toews was held in check offensively until that final game. If these guys can get going and help out Martin Havlat, this could be a rocky series for Osgood in net.
Depth- The 'Hawks have benefited from some great production out of their lower lines and guys that you wouldn't expect to score. When Dustin Byfuglien (pronounced like bufflin) has 7 points (3 G, 4 A), you know your offense is rolling. That's not necessarily a knock on Byfuglien at all but rather a compliment to coach Joel Quenneville that he has been able to call on unexpected sources for production. Like Detroit, Chicago has gotten some great help from "role players" when their top lines have struggled.
Defense- Chicago's got some great players on defense and they're often looked over when it comes to defining the success of the team. Brian Campbell, Brent Seabrook, and Duncan Keith are the anchors in that defense and have not only contributed to stopping the Flames and Nucks offenses but also have scored some goals of their own to help out on the other end of the ice. However, they'll face their toughest task yet when they face the talent rich Wings.
Three Keys to Detroit Success
Datsyuk and Hossa- These two guys have been MIA in the goal column for most of the playoffs, Datsyuk especially. If they can get going to their full potential there's no stopping this team. Hoss and Pavs are great playmakers and can both score at any given moment or make that great pass to another scorer. Hossa drives hard to the net and that can payoff against Khabibulin. The good news is that if they can't score, there are plenty of players to step up and they can more or less turn into passers and extra defensemen.
Franzen and Hudler- Johan has been phenomenal this postseason (and last postseason too) and continues to roll offensively. If he is able to carry over to the Chicago series what he started in the Columbus series and continued in the Anaheim series, there's not much the Blackhawks are going to be able to do. Johan has been great and has come through in the clutch but so has Jiri Hudler. The fact that these two guys are scoring like they are has taken the pressure off of Hossa, Datsyuk and Zetterberg and allows them to play sound defensive games when needed.
- Defense- Everyone knows about Nick Lidstrom and his ability in the defensive zone but one of the biggest (and best) surprises has been young Jonathan Ericsson. "Big E" has stepped in for Rafalski and has been a solid defender for the Wings. Now that Rafalski is back, he has less pressure to be exceptional defensively and may be able to contribute more on the offensive side with his big slapshot. Don't overlook Kronwall and Stuart though either. Kronner is second on the team in minutes/game and Stuart is third. Both of them bring a great physical aspect to the defense that Lidstrom and Rafalski usually leave out in favor of the pokecheck or stick lift. Like Chicago, Detroit will be facing its most talented offense yet and that could be a problem after facing two teams that really only had 2 or 3 threats.
Experience can't win you a Cup but it sure goes a long way in boosting confidence in big game situations. The Wings have far more playoff experience than the young 'Hawks team does and this could be a big plus for them heading into what will surely be a back and forth battle.
Both teams are well disciplined and well coached, so we'll probably be seeing a lot of even strength hockey in this series.Both teams have great powerplays so if one team takes more penalties than the other, it could be a crucial fault in the series. This will surely be one of the greatest series between these two teams.
A side note: count how many times commentators mention the Winter Classic in this series, should be close to as many times as they mention that Eric and Jordan Staal are brothers in the CAR/PITT series