Monday, May 18, 2009

Monday quick thoughts

In keeping with my predictions in the NHL Playoffs, the conference finals:

East: Carolina v. Pittsburgh

Potentially a dynamite series. It gets underway Monday night, and loads of firepower.
Carolina: Eric Staal, Erik Cole, Jussi Jokinen, Matt Cullen, Sergei Samsonov, and so on.
Pittsburgh: Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Jordan Staal, Sergei Gonchar, and more.

This series hinges on goaltending. Carolina has Cam Ward, who is unbeaten in playoff series. Yes, he is 6-0 lifetime in series wins. Marc Andre Fleury is not nearly as dependable, and that is Carolina's edge. Ward will be tested thoroughly in this series, though. If he is not his playoff best, Carolina will not advance.

I'm picking Pittsburgh in 7, but based on my prediction for the Hurricanes in the last round, Caniacs should be happy.

West: Chicago v. Detroit

As of this writing, the Red Wings own a 1-0 series lead, thanks to their 5-2 win in game on on Sunday. Game 1 was gift wrapped for the Wings, thanks to shaky goaltending from Nikolai Khabibulin, and Brent Seabrook being a bit lost defensively. The Blackhawks played a good game, but 2 bad goals (Dan Cleary's first, and Mikael Samuelsson's short side wrister), compounded by 2 goals Khabibulin had no chance on (the wrap stuff from Johan Franzen, and the deflection by Cleary in the 3rd period), allowed the Wings to win. The game was evenly played, no matter what Detroit fans will tell you.

Forget about the talk that Chicago is too young, and too inexperienced to win this series. Once upon a time, the Edmonton Oilers boasted a young, up and coming roster. They had to break through as well. This rematch of the 1995 Conference Finals will end differently. Prediction: Chicago in 6.

* Race week number 1 in the books, and what a win for Tony Stewart. Great to see the guy get the anvil off his shoulders, and collect his first checkered flag as an owner/driver. Of course, it didn't help his points standings, but the $1 million dollars will go a long way in off-setting costs. Can he pick up another win on Sunday in the Coca-Cola 600? Why not? Stewart should avoid trying to win the pole for Sunday's race, as it worked well for him last weekend. Loved how he played off his huge mistake in qualifying for the All Star race. He was supposed to get 4 tires in the mandatory pit stop, but drove off after his crew had changed only 2. It was his mistake alone, and in the past, he might have thrown a helmet, kicked a jackstand, or drank some gasoline (ok, not really). This time, he smiled, and said, "I don't know what I was thinking." Note to Tony: Go 3/4 speed on Thursday night, say "I don't know what I was thinking," smile, and go win the 600 on Sunday. Great stuff.

Be sure to check out Sports Night all week long, as we'll go one on one with all 4 Hendrick Motorsports drivers. Monday-Wednesday, and then again on Friday. Thursday night, we'll be live at Lowe's Motor Speedway for Coke 600 qualifying, and then again, over the weekend for all the activity at the track.

Mike Solarte

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