Sunday, May 11, 2008

Round Three... Halfway There (Focus on the East)

And now... your 2008 Stanley Cup Eastern Conference Finals matchup: the battle of Pennsylvia featuring a pretty darn bitter rivalry in Philadelphia vs Pittsburgh.

Philadelphia Flyers
Expository Statement: The Flyers are a team that missed the playoffs by a wide margin in 2007 and despite them adding pieces and parts for the 2008 season, not many people expected much for this year. However, the Flyers have gotten excellent play from some key figures and have made it into the final four.

Players of Note (said key figures):
Offense: Daniel Briere has shown in the playoffs why the large contract him by Philly. The true offensive leader for Philadelphia, though, has been 22 year-old Center Mike Richards. Playing with a skill and ferocity that portends a long career leading the Flyers, Richards has been both the biggest offensive weapon and extremely solid on the backcheck.

Defense: The loss of defenseman Kimmo Timonen will be difficult to overcome as it leaves the Flyers relatively thin on D with Jason Smith and rapidly improving Braydon Coburn being backed up by the relatively ancient Derian Hatcher and a bunch of young 'uns.

Goaltending: One of the keys to the Flyers success this postseason has been the stellar play of netminder Martin Biron. In the first playoff action of his 9 year career, Biron was first steady against the Capitals and then spectacular against the Canadiens. For a guy born in the province of Quebec, this series win must have been particularly gratifying.

Pittsburgh Penguins:
Expository Statement: An excellent team that rolled through the first two rounds losing a sum total of one game. The Pens showed that they could either run and gun (as evidenced by their coming back to win game one against the Rangers despite being down 3-0) or play defensive shut-down hockey (see: game two against NY where they won 2-0 including an empty net goal).

Offense: Where to begin? Sidney Crosby is... Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin stepped up during Crosby's mid-season absence due to injury and showed himself to be a great player in his own right. Added to this mix at the trade deadline (at the risk of upsetting team chemistry with the departure of well-liked Kolby Armstrong) was sniper Marian Hossa.

Defense: the power play is quarterbacked by the very skilled Sergei Gonchar and beyond that, Brooks Orpik leads a fairly tough cast that often gets overlooked due to the Pens offensive prowess.

Goaltending: Marc-Andre Fleury has given the Penguins everything they could hope for this postseason and has more than adequate if-needed backup in the revitalized (and Anchorage, AK born and reared) Ty Conklin.

Forecast for the Series: Going into it, this matchup feels very similar to that in the West. You have a hard-hitting team that has gotten further than most expected (see: Philadelphia in the East and Dallas in the West) up against a highly-skilled team that most thought would reach at least this point (see: Pittsburgh in the East and Detroit in the West).

Just as in the West, the unexpected challenger (Philadelphia / Dallas) certainly could get it done, but it would be a surprise to this prognosticator.

So... expecting a Pittsburgh vs Detroit Stanley Cup Finals, but that's far from guaranteed. And that... is why they play the games.

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