Friday, May 12, 2017

Beast In The East

One team is banged up, while the other shouldn't even be here, or at least, nobody thought they had the chance.  The Pittsburgh Penguins host the Ottawa Senators in the Eastern Conference Final.  The two had met 4 times previously, with the Penguins holding a 3-1 edge.  The last time these two teams met was in 2013, in the lockout shorten season, which the Pens won in 5 games.

Pittsburgh will go into the conference final as the favourites.  Even with some key plays like Trevor Daley and Carl Hagelin hurt (their status for game 1 unknown), the Penguins are still the deeper team, though the defense can be a potential question mark without Daley.  Sidney Crosby looked better in the finale against Washington, after looking not quite right in his game 6 return from a concussion.  If Crosby is able to regain the form he was playing at in the first 2 games against Washington, then the series against Ottawa may not even be close.  Even with the other great players on this team, like Evgeni Malkin and Phil Kessel, Crosby is the engine that drives the train.

The Cinderella Ottawa Senators would love to keep the glass slipper on and continue their surprising run to the Stanley Cup Final, which they have only reached once before in 2007, losing to Anaheim in 5 games.  For that to happen, Erik Karlsson will need to channel his inner...well Erik Karlsson, and continue to play like the early Conn Smythe candidate like he has been playing in the first two rounds.  Amazingly, he's done all this with two hairline fractures in his foot.  It looked like the injury finally caught up to him against the New York Rangers in games 3 and 4 in the second round.  He didn't even play the final period in the 4-1 loss in game 4.  The rest helped him, as he looked great in the next two games to beat the Rangers and move on.

Much was made about Chris Neil being inserted to the Senators' lineup in game 5, and whether it would actually make an impact (it didn't).  More importantly than Neil suiting up, was that the Senators' top players finally showed up.  Mike Hoffman and Mark Stone both scored in the final two games against the Rangers.  Bobby Ryan, so good against Boston in round 1, disappeared for the most part, until he set up Karlsson for the series winner against New York.  All three need show their presence if Ottawa is to get by the defending Stanley Cup Champions.

In the end, it is possible that the conference final may come down between the two goaltenders.  Ottawa's Craig Anderson was awful in games 2 thru 4, but brilliant in the final two games.  With the Senators down 2-1 in game 5, Anderson made a save on Michael Grabner that might very well have saved the Senators' season.  Had he let that goal in, that might have been the end for Anderson for the game and series.  Ottawa came back to win in overtime.  Marc-Andre Fleury has had his ups and downs in the playoffs -more ups, then downs.  He was the difference in game 7 against Washington.  He may not need to stand on his head against Ottawa, but he can't have any off games and give the Senators any life.

Ottawa has been a great story in this playoffs, with Karlsson playing lights out, Craig Anderson dealing with his wife battling cancer, and forward Clark MacArthur coming back late in the regular season, recovering from a concussion all season long, and scoring the overtime winner against Boston to win the series, a lot will have to go the Sens way to advance to the Stanley Cup Final.  Pittsburgh, as long as no more bodies keep dropping, ultimately are just too good.  They will come out on top in 6.  (I would want it to be Ottawa in 6, but can't do it).

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