If you were to compare the coaching resumes of the men leading the Carolina Hurricanes and the Pittsburgh Penguins, you would have to give a huge advantage to Carolina. Paul Maurice has been around the NHL for what seems like ages, considering his relatively young age. He led the franchise back when they were still in Hartford and at the time was one of the longest tenured coaches in the NHL until he was fired by the Hurricanes in December of 2003.
Maurice took some time off, but was then hired by the Toronto Maple Leafs and served under the bright lights of Hockey Hollywood for two years. After being fired when the Leafs failed to make it to the playoffs during his stay, he worked in the war room and did some television analysis for TSN. Jim Rutherford surprised everyone when he re-hired Maurice for a comeback try with the Hurricanes in December of this season, but after an uneven start, the coach got the Hurricanes playing with fire and consistency down the stretch.
Maurice also has ample help from Hall of Famer Ron Francis and future Hall of Famer Tom Barrasso, who have been at his side throughout his return. Francis serves as Associate Head Coach and works from the bench. Barrasso is officially called Goaltending Coach, but provides expertise in other areas as well. He and Kevin McCarthy work from a booth near the press area, but communicate throughout the game and between periods with Francis and Maurice.
How does head coach Dan Bylsma stand a chance against this Carolina braintrust, and who in the heck is Dan Bylsma?
First of all, the Penguins coach is the youngest coach currently in the NHL. Before being hired by Pittsburgh in February of this year, he was head coach for the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins and had just been assigned to that position at the beginning of this season. The previous two years he served as an assistant for the "baby Pens". Previous to that, he worked as an assistant for the New York Islanders for one season and was an assistant at Cincinnati one year.
That's not a whole lot of head coaching experience.
But who needs experience if you can lead your team to a 80% winning percentage? That is exactly what Bylsma did when his Pens finished the season with an amazing 18-3-4 record.
The coach is the exact opposite of his predecessor, Michel Therrien. While Therrien was a stern task master with a sometimes short fuse, Bylsma is known as a "player's coach". He has certainly been able to get the most out of Sidney Crosby and company, but is that going to be enough for the conference finals?
Strategy is going to be more important than ever now as both teams head down the stretch. It's not just about getting the most out of your team. In the postseason, every player gives everything they have anyway. This is more about getting the right matchups, putting the most effective defensive schemes in place, and making sure your team sticks to the system.
Bylsma will be going up against a couple of the better minds in hockey in this series. Is he up to the task?