Goalie battles? Cheesesteaks? We've got answers
With the conference finals under way, our experts took some time to ponder what lies ahead. ESPN.com's Scott Burnside, ESPN The Magazine's E.J. Hradek and ESPN analyst Barry Melrose answer these 10 burning questions:
Scott Burnside: Fleury. He just gets it. He has shown no wobble in his game and I don't expect to see any now.
Barry Melrose: I think Biron will probably outplay Fleury, but I don't think that will matter. I think Biron has to be out of this world in order for Philadelphia to win this series.
Burnside: Chris Osgood is the Rodney Dangerfield of NHL goalies. He's 6-0 and, I think, given the defense playing in front of him, he saws off Turco, which is all he has to do for the Wings to advance.
Hradek: Turco will have to make more saves, but Osgood will make enough to push the Wings to the Cup finals.
Melrose: Turco will outplay Osgood because he'll see a lot more rubber. But Osgood doesn't have to win this series, he just can't lose it by allowing a bad goal for Detroit.
3. We've seen two rounds and it's time to ask again ... who's leading the Conn Smythe race?
Burnside: If the Stars upset the Wings, it's got to be Brenden Morrow. He's been carrying the Stars. And Malkin has been a force for the Penguins.
Hradek: Based on the first two rounds, Stars captain Brenden Morrow gets my vote. He's scoring, hitting and making everybody around him better. Johan Franzen, Henrik Zetterberg, Pavel Datsyuk, Malkin and Biron are some other excellent candidates.
Melrose: Hands down, Brenden Morrow. I think he's the best leader in hockey. The way he plays, how hard he plays; how can you sit on the Dallas bench and not give everything you have after watching him? That's leadership. Two overtime winners? That's pretty good, too.
4. Who's the better player right now, Crosby or Malkin?
Burnside: It's degrees of brilliance, but in this case, Malkin has been the more dominant performer thus far. That could change in a heartbeat, though, given the talent these two players represent.
Hradek: Today, I'd say Malkin. Tomorrow, I might say Crosby. There should be a league bylaw against these two guys being on the same team. Right now, I'm not sure that Crosby's ankle is 100 percent.
Melrose: Malkin. Not only is he the better player right now, he's the best player in the world right now. He controls the game. He's a huge physical force. He's involved in every big play for Pittsburgh. And he's just getting better every time you see him play.
5. Of the four remaining teams, which arena is the toughest to play in?
Burnside: I'm guessing Wachovia Center in Philly given that Flyers fans are whacked.
Hradek: Philly! You never know when a friendly Flyers fan is going to drop into the visiting penalty box.
Melrose: I think The Joe is the toughest to play in because it's different from the others. There's no flash and dash there; the dressing rooms are worse than the newer buildings. No lounges or anything for the players. All the buildings will be packed and loud, but The Joe is different. Of course, if you're looking for sheer craziness, you don't get any crazier than Philly.
6. Who survives the cage match between the big owners from Big D -- Mark Cuban, Tom Hicks and Jerry Jones?
Burnside: Ooh, good question. I'd say Cuban. I think he's been working out.
Hradek: Dude ... Tom Hicks rocks!
Melrose: That's a good battle. All three have their strengths, but all three of them would knock themselves out at the same time, just like a real cage match, just like a real WWF match. You have no winner, so everyone comes back for a rematch next week.
7. A Philly cheesesteak or a Primanti Brothers sandwich?
Burnside: Overtime on this one. Cheesesteak. No onions.
Hradek: That's easy ... Philly cheesesteak, baby!
Melrose: Oh, man. Both are good; it's a tough choice. But I have to go with the sandwich, like Primanti Brothers. I'm a bread guy; I'm a cheese guy; so, it has all of my favorite foods there. Anything that's fried, I pretty much love. I come from a "fried" family.
8. How will the Flyers rebound from the absence of Kimmo Timonen?
Burnside: They don't. He is the one player they couldn't afford to lose and still have a chance to win this series.
Hradek: Everybody else on the defense must step up. Young Braydon Coburn must be a lion. Replacing a quiet star like Timonen won't be an easy chore.
Melrose: That's a tough loss because he plays the most minutes and plays against the other team's top forwards. He's also been paired with Coburn, so you're forced to break pairings up. He might be the toughest guy on Philly to replace. One option is to move Derian Hatcher up. It will be interesting to see who takes that job.
Burnside: Lidstrom, because he does it all without ever appearing to break a sweat and because he never seems to get mad or swear or kick anyone's dog. He could probably run for president and win. Certainly in Sweden.
Hradek: Lidstrom. Simply, he's among the best ever. Zubie isn't too far behind, though.
Melrose: Lidstrom. I love them both, but Nicky's the best. They're both comparable, but Lidstrom does everything and I think he's a bit defensively better than Zubov. When push comes to shove, Lidstrom is one of the three best defenseman to ever play the game.
10. We're asking you to dream again. What's the one dream scenario you would want to see in the conference finals?
Burnside: Steve Ott flattening Al Sobotka, the world's most famous Zamboni driver, just as he's about to start twirling the octopus that's been splattered onto the Joe Louis ice during the national anthem. Sorry, Al.
Hradek: Chris Chelios, at the tender age of 46, scoring the overtime game winner that sends the Wings to the Cup finals.
Melrose: I love matchups and seeing which players coaches will play against the opponent. Mike Richards against Sidney Crosby or Evgeni Malkin? Who will play against Mike Ribeiro's line? It's really a chess match out there at times.
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