Hurricanes vs. Penguins Eastern Conference Finals preview

Canes-lg2_medium Pensburgh_medium

The Blogs

Canes Country vs. Pensburgh

The Storyline

The Penguins continue their quest to return to the Stanley Cup Finals after having defeated Washington in a star-studded affair, while Carolina hopes for a replay of 2006 following their seventh-game overtime knockout of the #1 seed Boston Bruins. Both teams turned on the jets after a mid-season coaching change, but which one will claim the Prince of Wales Trophy and play for the Cup?

The Numbers

Carolina Pittsburgh
  Record 45-30-7 11th 45-28-9 8th
  Pts % .591 11th .604 8th
  Goals For/Game 2.88 16th 3.15 6th
  Goals Against/Game 2.70 8th 2.84 17th
  5-on-5 GF/GA 1.00 16th 1.18 5th
  PP% 18.7 18th 17.2 19th
  PK% 80.4 19th 82.7 8th
  Shots/Game 32.6 6th 29.0 18th
  Shots Against/Game 29.5 12th 30.3 17th
  FO % 51.3 8th 49.1 18th

Neither of these teams jumps out at you as being particularly elite, but the Penguins do have a slight edge in terms of overall GF/GA.

Goaltending

Carolina


GP MIN W L T EGA GA GAA SA SV SV% SO
2008 - Michael Leighton 19 1029 6 7 2 1 50 2.92 507 457 .901 0
2008 - Cam Ward 68 3928 39 23 5 10 160 2.44 1901 1741 .916 6

Pittsburgh


GP MIN W L T EGA GA GAA SA SV SV% SO
2008 - Marc-Andre Fleury 62 3641 35 18 7 5 162 2.67 1850 1688 .912 4

Be prepared to hear, over and over again, that Cam Ward has never lost a playoff series. Folks, that's not a statistic, it's just a fluky fact. Carolina does get the nod in this area, though, as Fleury has just been "good enough" to get Pittsburgh this far, while Ward's .927 playoff save percentage and 2 shutouts are tops among remaining goaltenders.

Penalties

No OtF preview would be complete without a look at Penalty Plus/Minus, to see which players will head to, or send other players to, the box:

  Carolina Penalties Drawn  Pittsburgh Penalties Drawn
  Player Draws Fouls Pen +/-   Player Draws Fouls Pen +/-
  Erik Cole 49 25 +24   Evgeni Malkin 62 39 +23
  Eric Staal 45 24 +21   Sidney Crosby 43 29 +14
  Tuomo Ruutu 40 37 +3   Matt Cooke 30 35 -5
  Tim Gleason 30 28 +2   Eric Godard 29 39 -10
  Chad LaRose 26 16 +10   Jordan Staal 28 17 +11
  Ray Whitney 23 16 +7   Chris Kunitz 27 27 0
Penalties Taken Penalties Taken
  Tuomo Ruutu 40 37 +3   Evgeni Malkin 62 39 +23
  Joni Pitkanen 13 30 -17   Eric Godard 29 39 -10
  Tim Gleason 30 28 +2   Matt Cooke 30 35 -5
  Erik Cole 49 25 +24   Brooks Orpik 25 34 -9
  Eric Staal 45 24 +21   Bill Guerin 22 30 -8
  Niclas Wallin 8 21 -13   Sidney Crosby 43 29 +14

When it comes to Penalty Plus/Minus in the playoffs, as I noted last Friday the Staal brothers lead the NHL so far with matching +6 ratings. At the overall team level, Carolina had the most power plays (374) in the league this year, with Pittsburgh not too far behind (360) in a 3-way tie for 4th. Whereas the Penguins were middle-of-the-pack in terms of penalties they had to kill off (347), however, the Hurricanes had the 3rd-fewest in the league with 301. If Carolina can maintain that discipline and tip the special teams opportunities in their favor, it could prove to be a significant advantage.

The Prediction

After facing off against his greatest individual rival, Alex Ovechkin, Sidney Crosby and his mates face a more non-descript opponent in Carolina; Eric Staal is recognized among puck-heads as a fantastic player, but after that the big names are few and far between. By getting valuable contributions from a variety of role-players, however, I expect the Carolina Hurricanes to triumph through a combination of special teams superiority and better goaltending.

NHL Playoffs Blog Coverage, Schedule and Scores - SB Nation

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