This will be the type of Stanley Cup final that attracts hockey fans. A true hockey town (Ottawa) against an non-traditional hockey market (Anaheim) is happening once again. Only this time, there really isn't an underdog. There will be no upset. This is a series where, truly, both teams deserve to win. Looking at the playoffs so far, both teams are about even coming into this, with Anaheim having played one more game than the Sens. This will be a very competitive series with lots of hitting and lots of back and forth action and, at first glance, neither team has a clear cut advantage. Which is why we must take a closer look.
After a loss to Minnesota where Bryzgalov looked lost in goal, he was pulled in favor of Giguere, and it seems to be the best move that Randy Carlyle could have made. Giguere stole at least two of the games in the Western Conference Finals for the Ducks and (regardless of what you think about the size of his equipment) has been spectacular for the Ducks all playoffs long. On the other hand, Ray Emery has also been fantastic, shutting down the high-flying Pens, out deuling Brodeur and shutting down the Sabres. Many will argue, and I tend to agree, that Emery is a product of the D-men in front of him. He's good, but he rarely has had to deal with a Dustin Penner-esque presence in front of him so far in these playoffs, and his team is blocking shots at an amazing rate. Overall, I believe that Emery is comprable to Cam Ward last year. He's young and he's playing well enough for his team to win, however he's going to need to be better to best Giguere who is playing as well as, if not better than he played in the 2003 playoffs.
There's no doubt that the high-powered scoring attack of Daniel Alfredsson, Dany Heatley and Jason Spezza is hands down the best line in the playoffs, possibly even the league, but what often gets overlooked is the depth of Ottawa. They regularly skate four lines, their fourth getting as much as 10 minutes per game. Mike Fischer has emerged as a scoring threat this postseason and Mike Comrie is always dangerous. This is far from the one-line team that everyone views them as, with all of their players able and willing to contribute, all in their own ways. On the other side of the coin, Anaheim skates three lines regularly, with their fourth barely touching the ice during the game. Their scoring is spread out amongst their team, but they rely on defense and forcing their opponents into mistakes more than taking control of a game offensively. No team this post season has spread the wealth as much as Anaheim, but can theire offense hold up against the high octane attack of the Sens?
This is possibly the tightest category. You've got Anaheim's star power vs. Ottawa's depth. There's no doubt that Anaheim has the more noted defensemen of the two teams. With Pronger, Neidermeyer and Beuchemin each playing 30+ minutes a night, Anaheim will always have a top D-man on the ice, and with the other three of DiPenta, O'Donnell and Jackman (who has stepped in quite well in the last couple of games) the Ducks have a stifling defensive blanket that they drape over every opponent's stars. The big question is how effective will the Big 3 be against Ottawa's Big 3? So far no one's been able to even contain the big line of the Sens, and when they've managed to come close to keeping them in check, their other lines hop into the picture. Meanwhile, the Sens have depth, depth, depth. It's rare that any one of their D skates more than 25 minutes per night, and they can put any defensive pairing out on the ice without losing much of anything. Both of the teams can get physical, and expect to see a lot of hitting from both teams.
Penalties, penalties, penalties. That's what can be expected from the Ducks. So far, they've run into two teams with anemic powerplays (Minnesota and Vancouver) and one that simply couldn't score when not on the powerplay (Detroit). If the Ducks want to win this series, they MUST be disciplined and not allow the Sens to go on the powerplay. The Sens are converting on their powerplay opportunites at a 20% rate and the Ducks are the most penalized team in the playoffs. Not a good combination. Though the Ducks have had some success on the penalty kill, they simply can't afford to continue taking penalties, especially not against the Senators, and expect to win. On the other side of the coin, the Ducks powerplay is hovering around 15% while the Senators are killing off about 88% of their penalties. Neither statistic will set the world on fire, but the Senators have taken just under 20 less penalties than the Ducks. All-in-all, this could be the downfall of Anaheim.
This will be a fantastic series, with the potential to be one of the best in recent memory. For the third straight year, it will be "Canada's Team" taking on a non-traditional market's team. There are a lot of if's in this series; IF Ottawa's top line can produce against Anaheim's big D, IF Anaheim can stay out of the box, IF Emery can once again out duel a top goaltender, IF Anaheim can match Ottawa's scoring power. Out of all of the if's though, I think that Ottawa will come out on top. They've got more depth and more scoring punch. With Anaheim's penchant for taking penalties, Ottawa will be in heaven on earth. The biggest thing that Anaheim's penalty troubles will do is keep the action out of Ottawa's end, away from Ray Emery (who is their biggest liability, even though he's not much of one). At the end of the day, penalties will end up as Anaheim's downfall because they'll be facing a team that will actually capitalize.
Ottawa in 7