Based in Chicago, award winning columnist Paul Ladewski previews the Western Conference Finals & primary areas of interest for the Penguins in the series.
By Paul Ladewski
While the Penguins tend to business against the Carolina Hurricanes in the Eastern Conference finals, their advance scouts will have a close eye on the Western version, which pits the Chicago Blackhawks and Detroit Red Wings in an Original Six matchup.
In the regular season, the Penguins played each team once on the road and won both times in memorable finishes. In November, they beat the Red Wings in a shootout, 7-6. In February, with injured center Sidney Crosby out of the line-up, they outlasted the Blackhawks in overtime, 5-4. The Penguins also hosted the Red Wings at home on February 8th and were shutout by the Wings 3-0.
These are among the primary areas of interest for the Penguins in the series:
+ Depth. The Blackhawks have enough balance and numbers to roll over four lines effectively. After the top pair of Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook, however, their back line lacks depth and can be exploited as a result. The Red Wings are as deep as any team in the league.
+ Goaltenders. The Blackhawks start Nikolai Khabibulin, while the Red Wings counter with Chris Osgood in a matchup of 36-year-old veterans. Osgood comes off a subpar regular season, while the Bulin Wall has displayed some cracks in the few times that he has been tested in the playoffs. Ex-Penguin Ty Conklin waits in the wings, but he’ll be called on only if Osgood turns bad.
+ Skill players. Each team has several talented finesse players who thrive with time and space, namely,
the Blackhawks’ Marvin Havlat, Patrick Kane and Patrick Sharp and the Red Wings’ Marian Hossa, Pavel Datsyuk and Henrick Zetterberg. In the semifinals, the Anaheim Ducks wore down the Red Wings with their aggressive style at times.
+ Special teams: The Blackhawks and Red Wings thrive with the manpower advantage and enter the series as the top two teams in power-play goals this postseason. At the same time, the Red Wings penalty-kill unit has been suspect for months. It ranked 25th in the regular season, while the Blackhawks checked in at 18th overall.
+ The first 10 minutes. The Blackhawks have been vulnerable early in games throughout the playoffs. They were able to overcome several deficits against the Calgary Flames and Vancouver Canucks, but they aren’t likely to get away with it against better competition. Fast starts are important against the Red Wings, who have the experience and know-how to protect leads for extended stretches.
Photo courtesy of Dan4th