The big day is finally here. The Eastern Conference Champions in the Ottawa Senators are hours away from stepping on to the ice at the Honda Center for Game One against the Western Conference Champions in the Anaheim Ducks. I expect this series to be fast-paced with goals and hits. Some people have already gone on record and said that it will be a terrible series, but I disagree. You're looking at two of the most complete teams in the NHL, and the depth of both teams will be on display here. If you're an NHL general manager who is looking how to build his team from the bottom up, tune into the Stanley Cup Finals. This series will provide a bit of everything.
First, some fun. EA Sports always has their take on the championships of every sport as they simulate a game or series to determine the winner. The Vancouver-based division of EA Sports, who produce their NHL Hockey games, simulated the final using its NHL 2007 game and Ottawa beat the Anaheim Ducks in six games. The Senators clinched the city's first Stanley Cup since 1927 in front of a soldout crowd at Scotiabank Centre.
Of course, this means absolutely nothing, but I thought it's kind of fun. EA Sports predicts the Senators to win in six games. Gord Stellick, Kevin Quinn, Dean Brown, and Jim Hughson of Rogers' Sportnet.ca all predicted the Senators to win the Cup before the season. Only Gary Galley and Jean Louis predicted the correct teams in the Finals, with Galley picking Anaheim while the Montreal Canadiens beat reporter selected Ottawa to win. Daren Millard and Bill Watters picked Anaheim to win. Hockey Night In Canada analyst Scott Morrison picks the Ottawa Senators in six games over the Ducks. TSN.ca's panelists have made their selections. Bob McKenzie, Darren Dreger, James Duthie, and Maggie the monkey all selected Ottawa. Only Darren Pang selected Anaheim.
Me? Well, I'll make my prediction below.
The comparisons between the two teams are quite close. Anaheim has been getting great goaltending from Jean-Sebastien Giguere who looks much like he did during the 2003 Stanley Cup run where he won the Conn Smythe Trophy. He has backstopped his team to victories over the Detroit Red Wings, Vancouver Canucks, and Minnesota Wild, and is 12-1 in overtime in the playoffs. Of course, the Ducks feature the "big three" on defence, consisting of Chris Pronger, Scott Niedermayer, and François Beauchemin. All three are logging over 30 minutes per game, and look solid. There is a rumour that Niedermayer may be nursing an injury, but having five days off before the final can do wonders when it comes to bumps and bruises. Up front, the Ducks feature three solid scoring lines, anchored by such stars as Teemu Selanne, 2007 Fastest Skater Winner Andy MacDonald, Corey Perry, Ryan Getzlaf, and Dustin Penner. Where Anaheim may capitalize the most is with their effective checking line. That line already has ten goals in the playoffs, the same amount as the first-line.
Where Anaheim might struggle is with their physical play. The Ducks took some poorly-timed penalties that allowed the Red Wings to keep games close. Against an efficient powerplay like Ottawa's, the Ducks might find they have to ease off the chippiness in order to win. You can't keep giving teams powerplays, and the Ducks have been guilty of that throughout the playoffs.
Ottawa has also gotten terrific goaltending from Ray Emery, and he has been consistent. He may give up a weak goal, but he bounces right back, not letting it bother him at all. The team has blocked a ton of shots in the playoffs, and they'll need to keep sacrificing the body in order to win. The shutdown pairing of Chris Phillips and Anton Volchenkov will see a lot of Teemu Selanne's line, while I expect Redden and Mezsaros to be out a lot against the Getzlaf line. Corvo and Preissing have been very strong as well, and I expect them to play 15-18 minutes throughout this series. The big line of Heatley, Spezza, and Alfredsson have scored in every playoff game except one, and they have accounted for nearly half of the total offensive output of the Senators. They'll see a lot of the Sami Pahlsson checking line, but should have the speed to break free of the coverage at times. They will also have to be defensively responsible with Pahlsson's line, and that could bring their offence back to Earth. The other lines have been playing well and contributing where they can. Having Mike Fisher play his role of pest and occasional scoring threat would be huge for the Senators. It also would be nice to see Mike Comrie step up and be a big factor in this series.
And that leads me to their biggest weakness: balanced scoring. The Senators haven't had any yet. The Spezza line has scored 23 goals. The rest of the team has scored 25. If the Pahlsson line shuts down the Spezza line, the Ducks should be able to control this series. Pahlsson, Moen, and Rob Niedermayer have shut down the Gaborik line in the Minnestoa series, the Naslund line in the Vancouver series, and the Datsyuk line in the Detroit series. Ottawa needs some scoring from its second, third, and fourth lines in this series.
Teebz's Prediction: Ottawa Senators in six games to win the Stanley Cup. I've said it since they eliminated the Barney Rubble Hairpieces. I didn't care whether it was Anaheim or Detroit. Ottawa has been the best team in the playoffs this season.
My Conn Smythe Trophy winner will be Daniel Alfredsson. He has been the Seantors' best player night in and night out in these playoffs, and has done everything and more that one can ask of a captain. His 10 goals lead the playoffs, and he has four game-winning goals. That's the mark of an MVP.
The series starts tonight in Anaheim at 8pm EST. Get your gameface on, and get ready to rumble! Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!