And then there were Four.

Well Carolina had to be the ones to keep me from going 4 of 4 in the second round; I would have preferred it if Anaheim had been the ones to do that.  Still, Detroit’s nail biting victory over the Ducks sets up a classic rivalry which is going to make the West the conference to watch.  The East, meanwhile, is boasting the Carolina Hurricane taking on Sidney Crosby and some other guys from Pittsburgh – at least that’s what the media would lead one to believe.  At any rate, this Sunday the Conference finals begin.

Western Conference

Detroit Red Wings vs. Chicago Blackhawks – It’s old school hockey time!  These two teams have faced each other in more games than any other rivalry in the history of the NHL.  Since the 1920’s these teams have played each other over 700 times in the regular season as well as having met each other 14 times in post season play (Chicago holds a 8-6 edge in that category).  This old time rivalry reheated this season as was evidenced by the Winter Classic, and the fact that every game they played against one another this season was in front of a sold out crowd.  You have to turn the clock back to 1995 for the last time these two teams met in the post season (while Detroit has spent the last two decades being on the top of the heap, Chicago spent the time trying to obtain mediocrity).  Anchored by young talent, and solid defensive players this years Blackhawks are the real deal.  Kane and Toews have shown they know how to get it done on the score sheet.  Kane scored his first post-season hat trick against Vancouver and has been showing all the signs of a power house player in the making.  Brian Campell, the veteran on defense, has contributed greatly to special teams and has been a solid blue liner.  That’s been vital for the Blackhawks as the one position where they don’t get much help has been in net.  Cristobal Huet and Nikolai Khabibulin haven’t exactly been the most stellar netminders in the NHL.  Neither of them could string together a solid set of games, and often times the Blackhawks won games in a wild west shootout style… surrendering 5 or 6 goals, but scoring one or two more than opponents.  A lot was said that this would work against them in the playoffs, but so far their hard nosed work ethic around the puck has paid off.  However they are about to face a Chris Osgood who has recovered from his worst career regular season to put up some solid numbers in the playoffs.  Detroit is coming off a tough fought and physically grueling 7 game series against the Ducks, and one has to wonder if this won’t adversely affect the defending champions.  Last season many, including myself, wondered the same thing and Detroit never once showed signs of slowing down.  You can pretty much guarantee Detroit’s top tier players will come ready to play their A game.  To win Chicago needs to keep up the hard hitting agressive play that took down the Cannucks in 6 games.  They need to generate as much traffic as possible in front of Osgood and fight for every puck in the corner.  Their blue-liners are going to have to be stellar to keep traffic in front of their own net to a minimum, while the offense is going to have to play a quick transitional game to keep odd man rushes from occurring.  For Detroit the game plan is simple, they just have to be Detroit.  They’ll play the same style of hockey that has come to symbolize Red Wing play – hard hitting, quick passing, and big shots from the blue line.  They have a wealth of playoff experience and that counts for a lot this deep in to the playoffs.  If they can stick to their game plan and keep Chicago from dictating the pace of the game they should manage just fine.  This is going to be a classic series.  While the East boasted their Crosby v. Ovechkin series, the West is boasting two teams who are out for each others throats.  There’s a real rivalry here and not just two top-notch players everyone wants to see.  While I’ll admit the creative play of Ovechkin and Crosby was entertaining, it wasn’t the real deal in terms of a good old hockey rivalry.  At the end of the day whichever team wins this series will absolutely have deserved it.  I’m going to go against the rational part of my mind, and go with a little bit daring when I say Chicago is going to be representing the West for Lord Stanley’s Cup.

Eastern Conference

Pittsburgh Penguins v. Carolina Hurricane – To be honest this is a hard series to get excited about.  Normally I am all over the Eastern conference but this series has all the makings of who could really care?  Okay, fans of the two teams I’m sure will be interested, and the media will be drooling over every move Crosby makes, but at the end of the day this series isn’t going to be anything to write home about.  I certainly have made a habit our of underestimating the Hurricane.  While they do have some good players, looking over their roster there isn’t anything that jumps out at you as a team that has a deep run in to the playoffs written all over them.  What happened, however, was that a lot of the players stepped up to a whole new level late in the season and it carried over in to the playoffs.  Goaltender Cam Ward has been nothing short of amazing.  With his stellar play in net the confidence has rippled outward to the rest of the team who have played like Cup contenders since the playoffs began.  What will be interesting about this series is the break neck speed at which it will be played.  Both teams boast a lot of speed and play quick attacking games looking to capitalize on every turn over by creating odd man rushes.  Both teams have defenses that jump up in to the play.  Both teams get crafty in front of the net.  The question becomes which team is better at that style of play?  While I don’t want to make the mistake of underestimating Carolina yet again, it’s hard to deny the talent on the Pittsburgh side of the ice.  Without the big hitting had players to tie up the medias favorite darling and Malkin (the one they tend to forget about the second his play gets cold), it’s hard to see any advantage for the Hurricane in this season.  While I am sure they will give it all and keep the series close, at the end of the day I have to say Pittsburgh is going to try again to claim that Cup for their own.