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?
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.
|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|
|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.
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.
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.