- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 17, 2009

STANLEY CUP PLAYOFFS CONFERENCE FINALS

EASTERN

No. 4 Pittsburgh Penguins

How they got here: Defeated No. 5 Philadelphia 4-2; defeated No. 2 Washington 4-3

Coach: Dan Bylsma (first year)



Goaltender: Marc-Andre Fleury (8-5, 2.72 GAA, .901 save percentage)

Scoring leaders: C Sidney Crosby (12 G, 9 A); C Evgeni Malkin (6 G, 13 A); D Sergei Gonchar (2 G, 8 A)

Why they will advance: Crosby found a new level in the Washington series, and it is hard to imagine any of Carolina’s forwards slowing him down. Jordan Staal will help neutralize his brother Eric, and the Hurricanes will run out of steam after back-to-back seven-game series.

Why they won’t: Gonchar is far from 100 percent, and Malkin disappeared toward the end of the conference finals last season. Fleury hasn’t been great this postseason, and he’s the lone netminder left without a Cup. Can they avoid a letdown?

No. 6 Carolina Hurricanes

How they got here: Defeated No. 3 New Jersey 4-3; defeated No. 1 Boston 4-3

Coach: Paul Maurice (first year)

Goaltender: Cam Ward (8-6, 2.22, .927)

Scoring leaders: C Eric Staal (9 G, 4 A); LW Jussi Jokinen (6 G, 4 A); D Joni Pitkanen (0 G, 7 A)

Why they will advance: Ward has never lost a playoff series, so that’s a good start. Carolina will play keep-away from Pittsburgh’s top two lines, and their defense is underrated — Pitkanen and Tim Gleason will be the breakout stars with the national media.

Why they won’t: Rod Brind’Amour is hurting and hasn’t been effective. They can’t rely solely on Ward and a couple of guys (Staal and Jokinen) to score — Pittsburgh proved it could wear down Simeon Varlamov and handle the Caps when they had no secondary scoring. The “Cardiac Canes” mystique will run dry.

Prediction: Penguins in 7

WESTERN

No. 2 Detroit Red Wings

How they got here: Defeated Columbus 4-0, defeated Anaheim 4-3

Coach: Mike Babcock (fourth year)

Goaltender: Chris Osgood (8-3, 2.06, .921)

Scoring leaders: RW Johan Franzen (8 G, 7 A); LW Henrik Zetterberg (6 G, 8 A); D Niklas Lidstrom (3 G, 8 A)

Why they will advance: They are deeper and their talent is more experienced. Babcock is the best coach still standing, and Osgood is again answering his critics with a star turn in the postseason. If guys like Pavel Datsyuk and Marian Hossa play like they’re capable — look out.

Why they won’t: They are the better team, but the Red Wings are hurting a bit. It remains to be seen how much the physical series with the Ducks took out of them. Chicago’s power play (nearly 30 percent) plus Detroit’s penalty kill (less than 73 percent) equals a big problem. And it’s really hard to repeat.

No. 4 Chicago Blackhawks

How they got here: Defeated Calgary 4-2; defeated Vancouver 4-2

Coach: Joel Quenneville (first season)

Goaltender: Nikolai Khabibulin (8-4, 2.76, .896)

Scoring leaders: RW Martin Havlat (5 G, 8 A); RW Patrick Kane (8 G, 4 A); D Brian Campbell (2 G, 7 A)

Whey they will advance: They’re not afraid of the Winged Wheel anymore. Fans will make the drive east on Interstate 94 and infiltrate Joe Louis Arena. Osgood’s numbers are better, but these games will become shootouts and Khabibulin will make more big saves in key moments.

Whey they won’t: The Hawks have been remarkably healthy (only one man-game lost) — that won’t last. Their top four defensemen are great, but Matt Walker and Niklas Hjalmarsson will get exposed. The Red Wings will find a way to win two or three games just because, well, they’re the Red Wings.

Prediction: Blackhawks in 6

— Corey Masisak

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