This series is gonna be every bit as good as the Wings/'Hawks series, hopefully. This has the makings to be total destruction though, and that destruction could swing either way and here are some of the reasons why each team will either sink or swim
Carolina Hurricanes (45-30-7, 97 pts)
SB Nation Affiliate: Canes Country
- The "Cardiac Canes" are exactly that. Never count them out of a game is what I've learned over the course of the playoffs. They have an incredible drive and a "never quit" attitude that has kept them in these playoffs. Several teams would have quit at the end of game 7 in New Jersey or been flustered by Boston's come back to force a game 7 in that series. They also take very few penalties and have the best PK left, leaving that part of the game a non-factor in the score column. The 'Canes have great coaching and a great attitude on the team, one of the reasons they're still in this thing.
Cam Ward. The guy has been nothing short of amazing. Like Osgood, there are few goals in these playoffs that you can really point to and go "well he should have had that." He's been solid in net and kept the team close in games they should have been out of early. If he keeps playing like this, it doesn't matter who is shooting at him for the Penguins, even the owner would have trouble.
Eric Staal is some kind of hybrid. The guy is incredibly fast and shoots a great wrist shot but also can hammer opposing players with the best of him. Anytime he gets the puck he is a serious threat to score or make a great pass to set up a goal by a teammate. He's a true gamechanger and is one of the best assets the Hurricanes have.
- Their defense is suspect at times and can give up the big play as well giving up shooting lanes. If they're inconsistent, Malkin and the rest of the Pens will exploit it and make the Canes look like an ECHL team.
- The Canes have limited scoring depth, despite the numbers distributed throughout the postseason thus far. When New Jersey and Boston really clamped down defensively, Carolina struggled to produce; part of the reason each series went 7.
- Carolina has had some trouble on the draw and that could hurt them against a Pittsburgh team that has the #2 remaining faceoff team in the playoffs. Pittsburgh can control the time of possession if they are able to win the faceoff and control the tempo in the offensive zone.
Pittsburgh Penguins (45-28-9, 99 pts)
SB Nation Affiliate: PensBurgh
- The Penguins have one of the best defenses in the NHL and if they are able to shut down Staal and Cole, Carolina could be in trouble because their second and third string forwards aren't up to par with the Pens 2nd and 3rd line defenses.
- Despite the Bruins scoring more regular season goals than the Pens, the Pens have the best scoring depth that the Canes have seen all playoff year. Sidney Crosby has 12 goals and 21 points to lead all players in both categories and has been on fire lately. Add in Evgeni Malkin and Bill Guerin, the Canes and Cam Ward face a very formidable foe.
- Physicality. The Pens are brutal on the physical side of things. Brooks Orpik, Chris Kunitz, and Matt Cooke can flat out bring it when it comes to putting someone on their butt. The Pens will also lay down the body to block a shot; 3 of the top 5 shot blockers in the playoffs are wearing the gold and black...and not Boston. They play tough but they play smart too, only 10.5 minutes of penalties per game on average.
- Marc-Andre Fleury has yet to resume the role of superstar goalie that he started last year in the playoffs. He's been pretty regular in net in terms of goals allowed with 2.72 and a .901 save percentage and has looked vulnerable at times (although he has had some ridiculous saves). If the Canes are able to get in his head and get plenty of shots on net, there could be trouble in the Steel City.
- Sidney Crosby is indeed human. He can be shut down if the Canes put a body on him at all times. Just like Ovechkin, if he can't get the puck, he can't score. If you force him to play defense more than he does offense, he can be beaten mentally. The bright side of this one, if you're a Pens fan, is that this is gonna be pretty tough for the Canes to do.
- Sergei Gonchar is not at 100%. Sarge is one of the best defenders in the NHL--even though he is rarely recognized for it--but is still feeling the effects of the knee to knee Ovechkin gave him in Game 4 of that series. Even if he does play from the start of the series, Gonchar could still be favoring the knee and could be a tad slow against a very speedy Canes team
In the end it comes down to one thing: this series is going to be intense. There will be great hockey by both teams and I'll be looking forward to watching it. The best thing about this series is that it's not the Wings so I can sit back and relax and not have a heart attack every 5 seconds. Enjoy!
Oh, as Hooks Orpik of PensBurgh mentioned, count how many times commentators mention Eric and Jordan Staal and the fact that they are brothers. Should be quite a bit.