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MOP Squad on the Stanley Cup Final Part Three: The Matchup
By BRIAN PIKE, MOP Squad Sports Hockey Editor
May 28, 2007 - 7:45:29 PM

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The Goaltending Battle: Since the Conn Smythe Trophy for playoff MVP began being handed out in 1965, only four players have ever won it twice: Wayne Gretzky, Mario Lemieux, Bobby Orr, and Bernie Parent. Only one, Patrick Roy, took it home three times. This year, Jean-Sebastian Giguere has the opportunity to join that esteemed group; he won it in a losing cause back in 2003, and if he has a strong final and the Ducks win, it’ll be tough to argue against him. Giguere didn’t start Anaheim’s first four games against the Wild after missing time late in the regular season due to a family matter, but he’s been sensational ever since. His 1.87 goals-against average and .932 save percentage are stunning numbers, and with the Ducks badly outshot in the critical games four and five against Detroit Giguere shut the door to lead his team to victory. Ottawa’s Ray Emery, meanwhile, has some very impressive numbers as well (1.95 GAA, .919 SP), and while he hasn’t had to be spectacular on many nights, he’s been very solid. The list of goaltenders he’s outduelled is quite impressive: Pittsburgh’s Marc-Andre Fleury, the raw talent who was a first overall draft choice in 2003 (by contrast, Emery was a fourth round choice, 99th overall, in 1999); New Jersey’s Martin Brodeur, three-time Stanley Cup winner, owner of nearly every honour a goaltender can receive, and one of the best of all time; and Buffalo’s Ryan Miller, the talented starter who took his team to the third round each of the last two years by standing on his head often in goal who is perhaps the best American goaltender in the game right now. Emery beat ‘em all.

When Giguere is on top of his game he looks like he fills up the whole net. He’s a very strong technical goaltender who makes hard stops look easy and while, like many butterfly goaltenders, the best way to beat him is up high, that’s much easier said than done. Emery, meanwhile, relies much more on his reflexes, though his style has developed as he’s gained experience. Just 24 years old, Emery was regularly in fights in his junior and early pro days, but two incidents this season notwithstanding (his fight with Martin Biron and Andrew Peters in a regular season game with Buffalo and his three game suspension for slashing Montreal’s Maxim Lapierre), he’s really gained a lot of self control of late. Both will be tough to beat in this series.

The Key: Anaheim’s checking line against Ottawa’s scoring line. Sami Pahlsson, Travis Moen and Rob Niedermayer have been so important to the Ducks so far in these playoffs. In round one they kept Minnesota’s Marian Gaborik and Pavol Demitra from lighting it up; in the second round they dominated Vancouver’s Sedin twins, rendering them practically invisible; and in the third they kept Detroit’s Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg almost completely off the scoreboard at even strength. There’s little doubt that they’ll see a lot of Ottawa’s Jason Spezza, Dany Heatley and Daniel Alfredsson in this series. Those three have been far and away the playoff’s best scoring line. They have nearly half of all Ottawa’s goals between the three of them, and among their many accomplishments these playoffs was scoring in the New Jersey series despite the attentions of John Madden and Jay Pandolfo, two of the league’s best defensive forwards. Whether they can do the same against Pahlsson et al will go a long way towards determining who will be crowned Stanley Cup Champion. Ottawa’s top defensive pairing of Anton Volchenkov and Chris Phillips will have their hands full with either the Ducks line of Andy McDonald, Teemu Selanne, and whoever plays in Chris Kunitz’s spot, or the “kid” line of Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry and Dustin Penner, and Ottawa’s power play vs. the Ducks penalty kill will also be an important matchup. But nothing’s going to have the impact on this series like the Pahlsson line vs. Spezza line battle.

Anaheim Wins If: They can stay disciplined. While Ottawa hasn’t been getting a lot of scoring support out of their second, third and fourth lines, they’re made up of speedy forwards who can rush the puck and draw penalties. And one of the major problems for the Ducks in the games that they’ve lost has been taking too many penalties. The Ducks are widely recognized as the toughest team in the league; they had by far the most fighting majors during the regular season and they like to hit. While the Ducks have faced some quick teams so far, Ottawa is quicker still. The Ducks will have to contain that speed without taking penalties or they’re sunk, because Ottawa’s power play has been very good so far. Obviously the Ducks have done a good job staying disciplined thus far, except for during a couple of games against the Wings, most notably their 5-0 game three loss. It was during that game that Chris Pronger hit Detroit’s Tomas Holmstrom and cut him, a hit he was suspended a game for, and though Anaheim managed to win the next game without him, they might not be able to pull off that trick again; Pronger is maybe the one guy who’ll have to work hardest to stay out of the penalty box, because while he’s at his best when he has an edge to his game, the Ducks badly need him to stay on the ice.

Ottawa Wins If: They can finally get at least some secondary scoring. I listed this as a key to their series against the Devils, and they managed to get by New Jersey without it. But it is absolutely crucial that Ottawa get some goals from someone other than Spezza, Heatley and Alfredsson. If Mike Fisher’s line or Antoine Vermette’s line can consistently get some offensive pressure it would really help Ottawa’s cause a great deal. If they can’t, all the defensive focus will be on that top line, and as good as those three have been it’s going to be very hard for them to get through the kind of checking the Ducks can bring to bear with Pahlsson’s line and Pronger on defense. If Fisher or Vermette can get their line going enough to draw some defensive pressure, it’ll free the top line up all the more. Now, these aren’t guys who are traditionally great scorers, but during the regular season Fisher had 22 goals and Vermette 19. Mike Comrie had 20, Chris Kelly 15, and Patrick Eaves 14, but none of them have more than three during these playoffs. They don’t need to start scoring in every period or suddenly become point-per-game players, but at the very least they need to get some offensive pressure and some shots on goal to take some of the burden off their top line.

The Bottom Line: It’s really tempting to flip a coin at this point. Both these teams have played extremely well so far and gotten some impressive victories. Neither franchise has ever won a Cup before and both have just one guy who’s gotten a Stanley Cup ring in his career. Both have some compelling reasons to pick them. But when in doubt, it’s not a bad idea to take the team with the most impressive defense, and that’s been the Ducks. While their checking line won’t keep the Sens top scorers completely silent, they’ll do a better job than Ottawa’s other opponents have, and with Pronger and Scott Niedermayer on defense the Ducks are very solid. Anaheim in six.

Copyright 2007 - MOP Squad Sports

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