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Conference Finals Preview: Pittsburgh vs. Carolina

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With the Conference Finals set, we can now breakdown the matchups with the Eastern Conference Finals first. 

Offense

The Penguins offense is dynamic and could score at will if they had to.  Sidney Crosby leads the league in goals scored and points.  Evgeni Malkin is second in the league in assists and third in the league in points scored.  They account for a third of the total points and 40% of the goals scored for the team.  The offense revolves around these two and being able to shut them both down is going to be a monumental task.

The Hurricanes have Erik Staal. In every game that Staal has scored in during the playoffs the Hurricanes have won.  That's a record of 7-0.  While the offense doesn't completely revolve around Staal he is a major force.  The Hurricanes have only had 12 players score a goal in the postseason and only 7 score more than once.  Staal has 9 goals which makes up for 27.2% of the total goals scored. 

Advantage:  Pittsburgh

Defense

The Penguins defense is not their strong suit.  They have given up the most goals in the playoffs to this point and have been able to counter it with their offense.  Behind Gonchar and Letang, the defenders on this team just do not scare anyone.  Add to that the knee on knee collision that Gonchar took in Game 4 which he is still probably not 100% from and you have a banged up defense that could give up some goals.

The Hurricanes have had to go to a game seven in both of their series.  They took out a Devils team that seemed a little shaky and a Bruins team that probably overlooked them.  They also have given up the fourth most goals in the postseason.  A group of Joni Pitkanen and Joe Corvo is not going to spread fear into many offenses.

Advantage:  Push

Goaltending

Cam Ward has been clutch in the playoffs before and can play under pressure with the best of them.  He is 4-0 in Game Sevens in his career and during this postseason has put up a 2.22 GAA and .927 SV%  He has been a main reason that this Hurricane team has been able to continue as far as they have come.

Marc Andre Fleury has seen his share of pressure as well.  He handled well last playoffs but wasn't enough against the Red Wings in the finals.  This postseason, he has posted an uninspiring 2.72 GAA and .901 SV%, which is only topped by Chicago's Khabibulin. 

Advantage:  Carolina

Special Teams

The Hurricanes have one of the worst power plays in the playoffs this season.  They have converted on only 10.4% of their chances so far.  Their penalty kill is second best in the league, behind only the departed Devils.   The Penguins haven't been much better but they haven't been much worse either.  They have converted 19.7% of their power plays and their penalty kill has killed 81.4%, both good enough for middle of the road in the postseason. 

The special teams battle shouldn't factor in all that much though.  Pittsburgh takes the second least minutes and Carolina takes the fourth least minutes in the postseason.

Advantage:  Push

Intangibles

The one thing that the Hurricanes have going for them is the underdog card.  They are heading into this series knowing that most people are not going to give them the respect they deserve, one of the most overused lines in all of sports.  They overcame a Bruins team that came out flat and a Devils team that has an amazing pedigree.

The Penguins have the added pressure of trying to live up to last year's performance.  The added pressure of trying to go back to the Stanley Cup Finals and possibly face off against last year's opponent in the Red Wings may fuel this team to play better but may also be too much pressure to handle.  This team has grown one year older and one year wiser when it comes to the pressures of the Stanley Cup playoffs.

Advantage:  Carolina

Outcome

The outcome of this seriesis all going to depend on a couple of key factors.  Can Cam Ward play to a level to carry this team against the Penguins?  Can Crosby and Malkin score enough to carry the Penguins?  Can the Penguins handle the pressures of making it to the Conference Finals?  I think that the Penguins offense is just going to be too much for a Hurricanes team that is going to be more fatigued.  Penguins in six.

Schedule

Monday, May 18 at Pittsburgh, 7:30 p.m. VERSUS, TSN, RDS
Thursday, May 21 at Pittsburgh, 7:30 p.m. VERSUS, TSN, RDS
Saturday, May 23 at Carolina, 7:30 p.m. VERSUS, CBC, RDS
Tuesday, May 26 at Carolina, 7:30 p.m. VERSUS, CBC, RDS
* Friday, May 29 at Pittsburgh, 7:30 p.m. VERSUS, CBC, RDS
* Sunday, May 31 at Carolina, 7:30 p.m. VERSUS, CBC, RDS
* Tuesday, June 2 at Pittsburgh, 7:30 p.m. VERSUS, CBC, RDS