|2002 Stanley Cup Finals: Setting up the Series|
|Part 2: Do the Hurricanes have a chance against the NHL's version of the Yankees?|
How you define a team on a roll?
You could simply point to the Carolina Hurricanes. Eight of Carolina's 12 playoff wins have been by one goal. They have won 5 straight on the road. They are 6-1 in overtime.
How do they do it? They share the scoring, rarely turn in a soft shift and have a goaltender, Arturs Irbe, peaking at exactly the right time. The overtime record suggest they are more than a little lucky. Most importantly, the Hurricanes are healthy.
If Carolina can continue rolling and beat Detroit, it will rank as one of the most shocking results in Stanley Cup history. The task requires an exponential increase in the discipline, urgency and resilience the Hurricanes displayed in eliminating Toronto, Montreal and New Jersey. Can they do it? Only if their luck holds and they play a series of almost perfect games. Last summer, Red Wings' management assembled the NHL's highest paid team, and they are getting their money's worth.
At their best, the Wings cover every inch of the ice as a five-man unit; the forwards are integral to team defence, while the defensemen help start the attack and jump up to create goals. When opponents have the puck, every Red Wing works to take away speed, space and passing options. Then they counterattack with world-class passing, puck handling, positional play and shooting.
Detroit has the expected mix of bruisers, playmakers and defensive specialists, but they trade roles as the situation demands. Scoring stars like Brett Hull and Brendan Shanahan work hard in their own zone. Sergei Federov is a defensive forward with the hands of a scoring champion. Steve Yzerman is the complete hockey player. The so-called checking line of Darren McCarty, Kirk Maltby and Kris Draper is fast and skilled (McCarty lead the team with four goals in the Colorado series).
Behind the all-star tandem of Chris Chelios and Niklas Lidstrom, the defence looks ordinary. But the Wings allowed just 13 goals in seven games against a high-octane Avalanche attack. Coach Scotty Bowman is a master at using players in a limited role to maximize their effectiveness. A veteran defenseman like Steve Duchesne, who has faltered with other teams in recent years, thrives on limited ice time in Detroit.
If there is a wild card in the Wings' lineup, it is Dominik Hasek. The veteran goaltender can be unbeatable, but he is prone to lapses in concentration. After an emotional, pressure-packed series against Colorado, he could be in for a letdown. Carolina forwards like Bates Battaglia and Jeff O'Neill have to pester Hasek, screening him, prodding for loose pucks and "accidentally" bumping him. Anything to get him off his game. This strategy can only work if other Carolina players are fighting for the puck and throwing it at the net.
Much has been made of Irbe's unflappable demeanour. He's going to need it. His team mates will try to build a defensive shield in front of him, but Irbe will likely face 30 to 35 shots a night from some of the best shooters in the game. He has to be the first star of at least a couple of games for Carolina to have any chance.
If the series opens up into a scoring spree, the 'Canes will be buried quickly. Carolina has to impose a dull, uneventful pace on each game, relying on Irbe when the Wings break through. They need more than the 10 goals they scored in the Toronto series, but it is more important that each line contributes steady, mistake-free hockey.
In the end, the surplus of costly talent on Detroit's four forward lines will make the difference, as it has all season. The Red Wings proved too deep for Colorado, and will prove far too deep for Carolina.
Prediction: Detroit in five.