Battle for EURO Cup starts tonight

All eyes are on St. Petersburg, Russia, tonight as the Red Stars host Les Rouges Eiffels for Game 1 of the EURO Cup Finals. Both teams enter the series healthy and fresh from resounding victories in their respective conference finals. St. Petersburg conquered Edinburgh 4 games to none, while Paris brushed aside Athens in five games.

Here is how the teams match up:

Goalies

It shouldn’t be much of a surprise that the two goalies with the best statistics in these playoffs play for these teams. St. Petersburg’s Pekka Rinne has been the better of the two, allowing just 1.76 goals per game through 18 games. His save percentage is 93.5. Paris goalie Tuukka Rask, 25, has been pretty good himself, stopping pucks at a 92.7 rate and allowing 2.37 goals per game through 15 games. Both have pretty much on their games lately. Neither earned a shutout in the conference finals, but Rask allowed no more than 2 goals in any game, while Rinne allowed 3 just once in 4 games. Looking at the entire season, Rinne was definitely better. He finished second in the league in save percentage (91.7) to Jonathan Quick, while Rask finished 11th in that stat with a 90 percent save percentage.

Defense

Kris Letang of Paris is coming off a great series in which he did more than anyone else to send Athens to the golf course. Letang is the only Paris blueliner who has more takeaways than giveaways in the playoffs and he has been the main man for the Eiffels’ defense. He has been responsible with the puck, is plus 8, and most importantly, has scored 10 goals in 15 playoff games.  Defense partners Ossi Vaananen and Kevin Bieksa are tied for tops among all players in plus-minus with plus 13 and Vaananen has contributed offensively with 11 points.

While Paris has puck movers like Letang, Mike Green (6 points) and Alex Pietrangelo (5), the Red Stars feature more size and toughness. Brent Burns has been their best blueliner in the playoffs, leading all players in the playoffs in hits with 62 in 18 games. His 10 points have him tied for third in scoring among defensemen and he is a plus 7. He, Bieksa, Willie Mitchell, Marc-Eduoard Vlasic and Jeff Petry all have more takeaways than giveaways and all are plus players.  The Red Stars defensemen have scored 8 goals in 18 playoff games. That’s two fewer than Letang has scored by himself.

Forwards

Both teams are amazingly deep at forward. Consider this for an example: Lee Stempniak, 29, who gets paid $2.25 million, is the fourth line RW on the Eiffels, having seen just 4 minutes per game in the playoffs. On many other teams in the league, he might be a third- or even second-liner. Paris throws two top-flight lines at you and they have shared equally in the playoff scoring thus far. One line features Corey Perry (16 points in 15 games), Evgeny Malkin (16) and Joffrey Lupul (12); while the other features David Perron (18), Miko Koivu (13) and Alexander Semin (10). Third-line center Mike Ribeiro does a good job of setting up his wingers in the limited time they have on the ice each game. Ribeiro has 7 assists and linemates Josef Vasicek and Ryan Clowe each has 4 goals. Malkin, Perry and Perron were all-stars this year.

St. Petersburg has gained fame for having more all-stars than anyone both seasons. In Season 1, the entire starting line came from Petrograd. The line that started the first all-star game – Erik Cole, Brad Richards and Blake Wheeler  – is still intact and will start tonight.  Just one checking line won’t do the job against either team in the finals. Like Paris, St. Petersburg gets equal scoring from two lines.  The Richards line has scored 24 goals and the line of Olli Jokinen- Valterri Filppula and Martin St. Louis has tallied 14. All six of those forwards are in the plus 4-6 range in the playoffs. The Red Stars’ third line is no push-over with Season 1 all-star David Legwand centering Viktor Stalberg and Artem Anisimov.  Cole was named to the all-star team for the second straight year, but in the playoffs, Paris has been the higher scoring team.

Special teams

Neither team’s powerplay has been dominant in the playoffs. Paris has been a little better, clicking 17.2 percent of the time, compared to Petrograd’s 16.8 rate. St. Petersburg’s penalty killing has been very good, stopping the opposition 88.2 percent of the time. Paris’ penalty kill units aren’t far behind and have an 86 percent success rate.

The key stat?

Not only does St. Petersburg have Rinne in goal, they have allowed fewer shots per game than any other team in the playoffs – 27.28. Paris has allowed more than 6 shots per game more. Another area of concern for Paris might be penalties. Of the 16 teams in the playoffs, Les Rouges Eiffels were the third-most penalized team (14.5 minutes per game), while St. Petersburg was third-least penalized (9.9).

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