Ari Baum-Cohen writes hockey for a popular hockey blog called illegalcurve.com.
Regardless of who wins the Stanley Cup finals, it has the potential to be a classic.
This rematch of last year’s finals features two of the league’s most talented offenses. Pittsburgh enters the finals as the highest scoring team in the playoffs, averaging 3.82 goals per game. Right behind them is Detroit, averaging 3.69 goals per game.
Pittsburgh’s contributions have come from predictable sources: Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. The dynamic duo has combined for 56 points in the Penguins’ 17 playoff games.
Trying to contain the Malkin and Crosby lines will be the offensively-minded, defensively-responsible pairing of Nicklas Lidstrom and Brian Rafalski, and the bruising, physically-imposing pairing of Brad Stuart and Niklas Kronwall.
Detroit has demonstrated their offensive depth in the postseason. Other than Henrik Zetterberg, the Wings’ top three scorers are Johan Franzen, Dan Cleary and Valtteri Filppula.
Detroit’s depth should present a serious problem for Pittsburgh defenders. Brooks Orpik, Hal Gill and Mark Eaton will have difficulty keeping up with the speed and skill of Detroit’s second, third, and even fourth lines.
Detroit’s major weakness this postseason has been penalty killing. The Red Wings have allowed power-play goals in 13 straight games before Wednesday’s contest against the Blackhawks. The Wings’ penalty kill is currently a dismal 73.7 percent.
Pittsburgh’s power play, though unexceptional in the playoffs, is critical to its success. Detroit has not given up many 5-on-5 goals, so Pittsburgh will need to capitalize on its man-advantage opportunities. Crosby, Malkin, and five-time All-Star Sergei Gonchar will be relied on heavily to produce.
Like any series with two offensively talented teams, goaltending will likely determine who comes away with the Cup. Chris Osgood is playing very well for the Red Wings in the 2009 playoffs and could very well be their nominee for the Conn Smythe Trophy. Osgood has posted a 2.06 GAA and .925 save percentage through the first three rounds.
Marc-Andre Fleury is also playing well, making several spectacular saves through the first three rounds, including a timely stop on an Alexander Ovechkin breakaway early in Game 7 of the Penguins-Capitals series. As good as Fleury has been, he will have to be even better against a Red Wings team that can roll out three solid scoring lines.
This series will come down to special teams and goaltending. No one can contain Malkin and Crosby, and Pittsburgh’s defense cannot handle Detroit’s offensive depth.
Game 2 is the key to this series, as a tired, beat-up Red Wings team will have to play on back-to-back days. Pittsburgh is hungrier and healthier and will eke out a series win.
Finally, watch the totals in this series. Oddsmakers may be reluctant to go higher than 5.5, but this series features two of the most potent offenses in the league.
Pick: Pittsburgh in seven games