Archive for June 2011

Just like the NHL after all

It's the WCHL's goal to mirror the NHL in many ways, so it seems only fitting that the to teams in the finals are the Detroit Red Wings and Pittsburgh Penguins, a duo which met in back to back years in the Stanley Cup finals.
Anyone looking to those series' to gain some insight into who will win the WCHL Cup this year might want to look somewhere else; both teams each won one cup.
In this match up, it features a Red Wings squad with a little less swagger than the NHL version. One year after finishing dead last in the Western Conference, the Wings have won the conference title are are poised to pull off one more upset in their quest to gain the clubs first WCHL crown.
Facing them is the Pittsburgh Penguins, perhaps the most unlucky playoff team in the WCHL. One year after winning the league's regular season point title, only to be defeated in the first round by the eighth seeded New Jersey Devils, the Penguins have roared back these playoffs, bouncing the Bruins and Thrashers with conviction before bouncing back from a 20 series deficit against the Philadelphia Flyers to earn the club's first WCHL cup finals berth.

Who will prevail? Read on to find out:

(4) Detroit Red Wings vs. (4) Pittsburgh Penguins

In a match up of fourth seeds, the Wings and Penguins have had to prove a lot along the way. Of note, both teams have started the last two series without home ice advantage and yet still came out on top, with the Wings doing so on the backs of two straight game seven road wins over the Colorado Avalanche and the Dallas Stars.
In this series it will be the Penguins who hold home ice advantage, and given the steely nerves of the Wings, the boys from the Steel city better thing long and hard about getting this series over early. A game seven on the road is right up the Wings alley.
As for Detroit, they busted out of a cold funk at the right time. After roaring to a 3-1 lead over the Avalanche in round two, the Wings would lose five of their next seven, narrowly getting past Colorado in seven games, in overtime no less, before falling behind 3-1 to Dallas. What a difference a few days can make and now the Wings enter the finals as what has to be the favored team mentally. Unlike Pittsburgh, who have the weight of past post-season failure hanging over them, Detroit has already far eclipsed what was expected of them. They are in a win-win situation.
One trend could hold true these playoffs, however. Despite some incredible series in the early rounds, most WCHL Cup finals have become blow outs, with a number of sweeps having been registered over the years. Even last year, when elite teams in the Calgary Flames and New York Rangers matched up, the Flames still blew past the Rangers in four straight.

Prediction: It won't be a sweep but the Penguins have been nearly unstoppable, minus a minor bump against the Flyers. This should finally be the Penguins year. Pittsburgh in five.

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Half way home

Early on, round two appeared to be full of potential blow outs, as several teams sprang ahead in their respective series. Impressive comebacks by both the New York Rangers and Colorado Avalanche provided a lot of entertainment however, despite falling short in the end.

The question that could linger though is, will those failed comebacks have any impact on the victors? Both the Philadelphia Flyers and Detroit Red Wings may have gotten through, but they will be facing well rested and extremely talented teams in the third round.

The following is a look and predictions for the third round:

Western Conference

(1) Dallas Stars vs. (4) Detroit Red Wings

The Stars finished tops in the Western Conference and have rolled through the post-season, having little trouble with either the Columbus Blue Jackets or the Anaheim Ducks. The dispatching of the Ducks was particularly impressive, as the Ducks appeared to be legitimate contenders to regain their cup status.

So do the Stars however, and they will have to get through the Red Wings to do so. The Wings have been the darling of the playoffs, first bouncing the defending champion Calgary Flames then extending the Colorado Avalanche's run of playoff futility in seven games in round two. Netminder Evgeni Nabokov has been particularly impressive, posting a .903 save percentage throughout the playoffs.

If the game is decided based on goaltending alone, the Wings should take the series, given that Stars' netminder Roberto Luongo has been decided pedestrian thus far. But with the dynamic duo of Brian Gionta and Alexandre Ovechkin pushing the Stars, that seems unlikely.

Prediction: Stars in six.

Eastern Conference

(3) Philadelphia Flyers vs. (4) Pittsburgh Penguins

The Eastern final comes down to two teams which have been long overdue for playoff success. Despite some great teams, both the Flyers and Penguins have struggled to find playoff glory. Now, in the first ever battle of Pennsylvania, one team will achieve that success at the expense of the other.

For the Flyers, they boast a strong offensive core and a defense which can both score and play gritty. Netminding has been the question in the past but, with his team backed into a corner in game seven against the Rangers, Chris Mason pulled out a huge win, allowing just one goal and pushing his team into the third round.

Pittsburgh though is full of potential, blessed with arguably the most talent on one team in the entire league. Lead by Norris Trophy candidate Dan Boyle, who nearly became the first WCHL defender to ever score 100 points in a season, Pittsburgh claims three scoring lines and a defense which is very mobile. If Marc-Andre Fluery can continue a strong playoff, Pittsburgh could be hard to stop.

Prediction: Pittsburgh in six.

Next: Finals prediction!

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