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Stanley Cup Finals Preview
by Ben Burns - 05/23/2007
The Stanley Cup Finals begin on Monday, with the Anaheim Ducks hosting the Ottawa Senators. The Senators are the more rested team but the Ducks are slight -130 favorites to keep the Cup in America. A closer look at the two teams appears below.
With one shot the much maligned captain of the Ottawa Senators ended a decade of frustration and sent his club to the Stanley Cup Finals for the first time. Daniel Alfredsson's goal sealed a 3-2 overtime win over the Buffalo Sabres as the Sens won the conference finals in five games. Ottawa improves to an NHL best 12-3 in the postseason and they have yet to lose two games in any series after eliminating New Jersey and Pittsburgh in five games each in the first two rounds.
The Senators finished second in the North East division during the regular season with a record of 48-25 and 105 points which was just behind the league leading Sabres who finished with 113. However, things did not look so rosy at the beginning of the season. Ottawa started the year with a 17-18-1 mark, but then went 43-10-8 in their next 61 games including the playoffs.
So how'd they do it? A combination of things for sure. Past experience plays a big part. Head Coach Bryan Murray is another factor. After becoming only the fifth coach to win 600 games earlier this season, Murray will coach in the Cup Finals for the first time;
"It feels great. I'm so happy for the guys," Murray said. "After the way we started the year, to do what they've done to get to this level. It's a very special group of people right now."
Murray is of course referring to his talented players; they are the single biggest reason his team is in the Finals. From top to bottom Ottawa has arguably the most skilled lineup in the Eastern Conference.
Daniel Alfredsson, Jason Spezza and Dany Heatley are leading the Sen's in scoring and are also at the top of the leader-boards in the playoffs. Right behind them in team scoring is their extremely talented defensemen; Joseph Corvo and Wade Redden don't just play stellar defense, they also contribute offensively with a combined four goals and 12 assists this postseason.
It's interesting to note that no matter who he's been matched up against, Ray Emery has been the underdog goaltender during the playoffs and he'll be playing that familiar roll once again in the Finals. However, Emery has been a key factor in the Senatorsâ€™ quest for the Cup. He's played in all fifteen postseason games, has three shutouts and has posted a sizzling 1.95 GAA.
Emery will not be the only underdog in the 2007 Stanley Cup Finals though as the line on his team to win the Cup has opened at +110. The Senators have come a long way in shaking their reputations as being 'playoff chokers', but it will be intriguing to see if they can bring the Cup to Canada's capital and silence the critics once and for all.
The Anaheim Ducks move into the Stanley Cup Finals for the second time, the first being their loss in seven games to New Jersey in 2003. During that incredible playoff run, the man largely responsible was goalie J.S. Giguere, who won the Conn Smythe trophy as the postseason's most valuable player despite the Ducks defeat.
These two teams will be playing each other for the first time since Jan. 19, 2006 at Ottawa, when Anaheim won 4-3 in a shootout. The Ducks are 12-4 in the 2007 postseason and are 7-0 in series-clinching games at home all time, including all three rounds so far this year.
Anaheim finished the regular season ranked number one in the Pacific division with 110 points. The Ducks' road to the Finals was a tad more difficult than the Senators was though. They were pushed to five tough games a piece in the first two rounds against Minnesota and Vancouver. Detroit had Anaheim right where they wanted them in Game 5 until they let it slip away and the Ducks went on to take the Eastern Conference Finals in six games.
So how'd they do it? GM Brian Burke is a big reason. Burke cleaned house, signed an aging all-star, brought in help on defense and instilled a sense of winning. And similar to their Eastern Conference foes, the Ducks also possess one of the most adroit lineups in the league.
Anaheim's top offensive player is a defenseman; Chris Pronger has three goals and 11 assists in the postseason. Right behind him in scoring is the resurgent Teemu Selanne who at 36 will be playing in his first Stanley Cup finals, with 12 points, Ryan Getzlaf with 13, and Scott Niedermayer has nine thus far.
But without a doubt the biggest reason Anaheim has advanced to the Finals has been the superb play of Jean-Sebastien Giguere who is 9-3 in the postseason with a 1.91 GAA and .931 SV%, stopping 326-of-350 shots.
"Giguere has been unbelievable the whole year," says coach Randy Carlyle. "He's really gave us a chance to win every night."
Anaheim will be looking for its first Stanely Cup in club history. The Ducks have not made it look easy in the 2007 Playoffs, a lot of their games have been ugly to watch. But as their star goaltender says;
"Playoff hockey is just about winning. Doesn't matter how you get there. Just gotta find a way to get that win."
Stanley Cup 2006
Last yearâ€™s finals featured a pair of small market teams, Edmonton and Carolina. The series provided plenty of excitement and was eventually won by Carolina in Game 7. The first game produced nine goals, sailing above the total. Five of the next six games finished below the number though, with the seven games averaging exactly five goals each.
Ben Burns is the #1 Documented NHL Handicapper in the entire history of the BigGuy.com website. Ben comes off another superb season and has been enjoying another strong postseason. Ben typically fares very well in the Finals and closed last season on a 6-1 run. Donâ€™t miss any of his Guaranteed Winners until the Cup has been won!