The Conference Finals start tonight with the Western Conference and it looks like it could be a dandy. It'll be the Red Wings, who steamrolled the Avalanche last round, facing the Stars, who have taken out the Cup champions in the first round and had their way with the Sharks in the second. Each team have been on a roll, which should create for a hard fought series.
OFFENSE: Though the normal hot hands in Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk have been clutch for the Wings, the main performer has been Johan Franzen; who leads the Wings in goals and points. Frazen has been put in every situation with four power-play goals and two shorthanded goals to go along with his four game winners. Even moreover, outside of the three mentioned, no Red Wing has averaged a point per game. For the Wings to get by, the role players will have to step up the offense a little bit.
The Stars best players have been their best players, with Mike Ribeiro, Mike Modano, and Brad Richards being up there, but Brendan Morrow; a noted grinder; has been the key offensive prowess for the Stars. Morrow's four goals on the power-play tie him with Modano for the lead on the team, while proving that Morrow is a great leader by example for his team. Loui Eriksson and Jere Lehtinen have been potting points in here and there, but will need to step up for the Stars to be successful.
DEFENSE: The Red Wings continue to be solid on the back line. Nicklas Lidstrom and Brian Rafalski have been, undoubtedly, leading the way with +7 ratings heading into the Conference Finals. Niklas Kronwall has also provided both on the score sheet and in his own zone. The key to the Wings success has been always been with the defense and it should continue as long as the Wings build around it.
With the addition of Sergei Zubov back into the line-up, the defense for the Stars has excelled. Though before Zubov came back, the no-name defense has come up huge. Stephane Robidas led the way, with Mattias Norstrom as his right-hand man. Matt Niskanen, Trevor Daley, Mark Fistric, and Nicklas Grossman have all contributed in their own way, but don't and won't get the recognition they deserve.
GOALTENDING: Marty Turco and his lack of success against the Red Wings is the focal point on this one. Turco has gone 2-10-5 career against the Wings, while going 0-7-2 in Detroit. In fact, that last time Turco won at Joe Louis Arena is when he played for the Michigan Wolverines. Turco, though, has been more than amazing for the Stars and should prove to play very well against the Red Wings. Last season, he got the monkey off his back when it came to lacking the will to be able to win in the playoffs and now it's time for him to prove himself again.
On the other side, the reemergence of Chris Osgood continues. Osgood played very well this season and has continued the trend into the post-season, going 6-0 so far. Coming in relief of the struggling Dominik Hasek, Osgood has played much like he did in 1998 when he helped the Wings to their second straight Stanley Cup championship.
This has the making of being one of the better Western Finals in a while, which means it'll go more than five games. In that, I think that the Dallas Stars will emerge victorious in seven games. The Stars have been defying the odds all playoffs long and I don't think this will be any different. Turco will be on his game and the top-four for the Stars will continue to have the hot hands.