STORM FRONT

2006 STANLEY CUP FINAL PREVIEW

 

So it all comes down to this - two former WHA teams meeting in the finals for the first time.  Remarkable when you think about it.  Edmonton played in five out of ten Stanley Cup final series in the 1980s and didn't once meet Hartford.  Of course as it turned out, the Whalers never made it to the finals until they were relocated to North Carolina and not until they re-acquired the man they never should have traded away in the first place (Ron Francis).  The last season NHL hockey was played these two teams didn't even qualify for the post season.  Are you liking the New NHL yet?  I know I am.

STANLEY CUP FINAL

Carolina Hurricanes vs Edmonton Oilers

Season Series: Did not play (further proof of why the NHL scheduling has to change)

When a team makes it to this point of the season, it starts to show.  Lucky for Edmonton, they were able to survive a flu bug and get some much needed rest.  It didn't help a lot of teams this year to have an extended break, but this is also the Stanley Cup finals.  If they haven't already done so, both teams are going to fight like mad and sacrifice the body for at least four more games - all for the right to hoist the hardest trophy to win in all of sports.

Carolina will come into this final series having played one more game than Edmonton and having won more games on the road than at home.  As you get into the later rounds, however, home ice truly is an advantage.  The prime example of this was in the Eastern Conference final during the last 3 games, especially in Game 7.  It was almost as if the crowd in Raleigh was responsible for the winning goal.

Home ice has been particularly kind to Edmonton, especially in the second round against San Jose.  The Oilers have only lost 2 games at home throughout the entire playoffs, and have continued their excellent play on the road, especially in the Western Conference final against Anaheim, where they won all three games played at the Arrowhead Pond.

The finals this year are, as always, a testament to veteran leadership.  There are several players on both sides who have been this far before only to skate away empty handed.  Rod Brind'Amour, Glen Wesley, Michael Peca, Dwayne Roloson are but a few.  Doug Weight and Chris Pronger have been close but are playing in their first ever final series.

Of course, you don't get to this point of the season without a few surprises.  Cam Ward is undoubtedly the biggest surprise on Carolina's end, while Fernando Pisani and Shawn Horcoff have been the big stars on Edmonton's end.

I very much like how this series will feature the speed and finesse this game is meant to showcase, I like how for the most part the referees have not put the whistles away, and I like the fact we are not seeing the same old teams fight it out for hockey supremacy.  I particularly liked how the supposed "big four" teams either didn't make it in this year, or were eliminated early.  If you like parity I hope you've been paying attention to this year's playoffs.

This series will come down to special teams, plain and simple.  If the Oilers are to win, they have to keep up their stellar penalty killing, and most importantly stay disciplined.  The Hurricanes may not have the best power play of the entire playoffs, but they have the ability to make teams pay for an infraction of the rules at the most inopportune time (or opportune depending on who's side you're on).  Chris Pronger has been as disciplined as I've ever seen, and has really set the tone on the ice.  What the Oilers need to do is stifle the offense the same way they have so far.  In round one it was Pavel Datsyuk, Henrik Zetterberg, Nicklas Lidstrom and Steve Yzerman.  In round two it was Joe Thornton and Jonathan Cheechoo.  Round three - Teemu Selanne and Joffrey Lupul.  In the finals they will have to keep check with Brind'Amour, Weight, Eric Staal and Cory Stillman.

The biggest key will be in goal.  While Carolina has rotated between Martin Gerber and Cam Ward, I'm not sure if either one of them can match Dwayne Roloson.  Without him Edmonton would have been done in the first round, guaranteed.  He has faced at least 35-45 shots per game and is usually one save better than the other goalie - the very thing Kevin Lowe was looking for on trade deadline day.

The Hurricanes have been to the finals once before, and lost in five games to the once mighty Detroit Red Wings.  As for the Oilers, forget about it - there's a tradition to uphold here.  They don't call Edmonton the "City of Champions" for nothing.  The way this season has unfolded, it's 1990 all over again.

In as little as eight days or as long as two weeks from now, the first champion of the new NHL will be crowned.  If history has any say in it, it will be yet another storybook ending for the Edmonton Oilers and a sixth Stanley Cup.

Prediction: Oilers in 5

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