Conference Finals Preview

A billboard in Copenhagen shows Stephen Weiss of the Tridents with his eyes on the Cup.

A billboard in Copenhagen shows Stephen Weiss of the Tridents with his eyes on the Cup.

In the office, we’re are still talking about the Athens-Berlin series, and Rose and I are even in our predictions. Each of us is 6-6. Here’s where I pull ahead and Rose starts to cry.

Northern Conference

Commissioner: Logic says this will be a very close series involving two solid teams with two of the best defense corps in hockey. But I’m sticking to my theory about things that can’t be explained and going with Moscow again. The Banker Effect plus the fact the Hockey Gods enjoy infuriating Dylan Callow will converge to blow Copenhagen out of the playoffs. Yes, it will be inexplicable. Let me explain: Moscow has their specialty teams revved up and clicking on all cylinders this playoff season. Chris Higgins and former Tridents Kevin Dallman and Andrew Ladd have accounted for 10 powerplay goals in the post season and many of their scores have come at crucial times or won games. The battle of the marquee forwards – Copenhagen’s Alexander Ovechkin and Moscow’s Anze Kopitar – will be incidental. They will cancel each other out and the difference makers in the series will be the top four Dmen of each team. Copenhagen’s will be great as usual, but look for more goals to come off the stick blades of Moscow’s Andrei Markov, Jason Garrison, Duncan Keith and Dallman.

Rose: Have you looked into Roberto Luongo’s eyes? I have and they are dreamy. They also look like the eyes of a focused, determined goalie. He has only been the best or second best goalie in the playoffs, allowing 1.60 goals per game through 11 playoff games with a 92.7 save percentage that’s actually better than it’s ever been while he’s been in this league. And his defensemen, especially the top four of Shea Weber, Alex Goligoski, Mark Giordano and Andrej Meszaros have been excellent. They have only allowed 22.55 shots per game in the playoffs and that’s better than any other team has done. Yes, Moscow has good special teams, and they proved that against Edinburgh and then Helsinki this playoff season, but those teams take a lot of penalties. Copenhagen doesn’t. Moscow has been taking very few penalties lately, so there is going to be a lot of 5-on-5 hockey. Copenhagen will keep scores low and will advance to the Cup finals in a close series.

 

Southern Conference

Commissioner: Paris is the defending EURO Cup champion, the current President’s Trophy holder as the best team during the regular season and they are just good. This is the second time in as many years that Paris and Athens have played for the right to represent the Southern Conference in the Finals. Athens, as we have seen, will never give up. But they will take penalties and against Paris, which is scoring on 24.6 percent of their powerplay chances this playoffs, that could kill the Greeks. If Athens tones down their play to stay out of the box, that could mean Evgeny Malkin, Corey Perry, Alexander Semin, Joffrey Lupul and crew have more time and space to operate and that would also be bad for the Greeks. The biggest concern for the Rouge Eiffels might be the play of Tuukka Rask. His numbers this year – in the regular season and playoffs – are slightly worse than they were last year. While still excellent, even a goal or two could make the difference between winning and losing to Athens. Rask needs to be razor sharp. I predict some high-scoring contests and no one tops Paris in those kind of series. Paris beat Athens 5 out 6 times in the regular season with the only loss coming in a shootout. I predict Paris winning in 6 games.

Rose: I have always liked Athens’ depth. They have three super centers to anchor a three-line offense and Paris’ defense can have off days. And Paris showed some vulnerability against Bratislava when the Eagles’ tough guys successfully disrupted the Eiffels’ play. And Athens has way more tough, stir-the-pot players than Bratislava does. It might all come down to how disciplined the Kronwalls, as well as Dustin Byfuglien, David Backes and Scott Hartnell play. Athens has had to deal with all kinds of injuries this post season and they’ve adjusted perfectly. If they get a little lucky and stay healthy, you will see the Backes line together for a while, and the O’Reilly together and if that happens, Athens can match Paris’ offensive output. Yes, Paris beat Athens 5 out 6 times in the regular season, but Berlin had a similar advantage over Athens when that series started two weeks ago. I have a craving for baklava and it will last for more than a couple of weeks. I’m going for Athens to go to the Finals after 7 games.

 

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