One of the selling points of the Western Conference finals is the tremendous contrast between the two teams. In the Red Wings, we have the defending champions, who have been so good for so long that it has become appropriate to label this era as a dynasty for them. On the other side we have the Chicago Blackhawks, who are very young and very new to this kind of position. The franchise hadn’t even made it into the playoffs for seven years before now and hasn’t won the Cup since 1961. How long ago is that? Put it this way – Chris Chelios hadn’t been born yet.
Yesterday, we saw game 1 go to the Wings, which is all well and good but doesn’t prove much. First of all, it was a home ice victory. There is an old saying that a series hasn’t begun until a road team wins a game. While no one outside of Chicago seems to give the Hawks any chance at all in this series, they have proven to be a resilient bunch who may yet make some noise. Personally, I am in the advantageous position of rooting for my hometown Red Wings, but if the Blackhawks should manage to pull the series out, I can pretend I was pulling for them all along.
Tonight, the puck will drop on the Eastern Conference final between the Hurricanes and the Penguins, and there are plenty of storylines there as well. In the Penguins, we have last season’s runner up, who lost in the finals to the Red Wings. They have 21-year-old superstar Sydney Crosby in their lineup and figure to be mighty thirsty for a drink out of the Stanley Cup after coming so close a year ago. Opposing them are the Hurricanes, who won the Cup a mere three years ago. They still have a core of players who’ve been there before who understand the task before them. More importantly, they have perhaps the hottest goalie in the playoffs in the person of Cam Ward.
Other compelling storylines include the fact that both Carolina and Pittsburgh changed head coaches in the middle of the season. In addition, this series will mark the first time in 35 years that brothers have opposed one another in a conference final. That would be Jordan Staal playing for Pittsburgh against brother Eric Staal of Carolina.
So no matter the outcome, we still have a several more weeks of fun before us!