Friday, May 29, 2009

Stanley Cup Finals Preview

Here we are again. The Detroit Red Wings and the Pittsburgh Penguins in the Stanley Cup Finals. I don't think it's any coincidence that every season the Red Wings have played since I started this blog has led them to the Finals. I'm two-for-two, baby. Looks like if I keep this up, we could see the Red Wings pass the Canadiens' mark for most cups as early as 2022. I won't let you down, Wings fans.

Anyway, so this is supposed to be a preview. I'm on top of it. I can't come up with a preview that has the type of hilarity and awesomeness that you'll find at The Triple Deke, but I'll do my best to break down the hockey aspect of things as I see it.

Stanley Cup Finals

(2) Detroit Red Wings vs. (4) Pittsburgh Penguins

Whew. At the beginning of this year's playoffs, I can say I totally expected Detroit to be here, and I kind of expected the Penguins to be here. I thought the Bruins and Penguins series would go seven games, but it turns out Carolina has a hockey team that plays well every once in a while. Here's something to cheer you up though, Bruins fans: the Sharks still lost in the first round, and they were supposedly the best team in hockey! God I love the playoff version of Evgeni Nabokov. He never disappoints.

I keep getting sidetracked, but I swear I'm getting to the real intriguing aspects of the series. Crosby vs. Zetterberg. Malkin vs. Datsyuk (I hope). Lidstrom's constant domination and Kronwall's crushing hits. The Nightmare on Helm Street (coincidentally the best nickname ever). French names like Maxime, Marc-Andre, Philippe and Mathieu pitted against foreign awesome ones like Valtteri, Pavel, Johan, and Ville. The Hossa situation. The "young guns" against the "old men," part two. Shitsburgh vs. Detoilet. It's all on the line. This is the best of playoff hockey.

Many comparisons are being made by the pundits between these Penguins and the Gretzky-Messier Oilers from the early 1980s. I think that besides the fact that those Oilers played the Islanders two Stanley Cup Finals in a row and these Penguins are playing the Red Wings two Stanley Cup Finals in a row, there is no comparison. These Penguins finished fourth in the conference this year and didn't quite reach 100 points, while those Oilers finished 32 points ahead of everyone and had an astounding 119 points in an 80 game season in 1983-84. These Penguins have a lot of question marks, despite two straight Cup Finals, and those Oilers went on to win five Cups in seven years. I'll drink battery acid if Pittsburgh can match that feat by 2016. Just because it was Gretzky-Messier and now it's Crosby-Malkin, doesn't mean there are real similarities. Put it to bed. These Red Wings match-up much more closely with those Oilers, despite their "old age."

I learned the only thing I need to know about this series today. Lidstrom is a go for game one. Alrighty then. If he's good for game one, he'll be good for the series. Done deal. And that is a huge problem for the Penguins. Lidstrom and Zetterberg will shut down (and I mean shut down) Crosby and Malkin to a point where they're dangerous but under control. As Buccigross wrote in his column today, Hossa and Franzen will create serious match-up problems with the Penguins' defensive corps. Draper is expected back later in the series, so his faceoff fortitude will again come into play in the most important games. Fleury has been great, but has shown weakness (see the Flyers series). Osgood has been even better than he was last year. The Wings haven't really needed their top scorers because their depth has been so good. These Penguins are hot, but the fact still remains that for most of the season, they were a mediocre club without much confidence.

These Wings won't face that same midseason Pittsburgh team, but they can relegate them to that status once more. I see these Red Wings playing with the hunger I didn't see in the regular season. I see these Red Wings playing with the heart that I didn't see in the regular season. Marian Hossa cannot and will not lose this series. If he does, he'll never live it down. But he knows that. And he won't let that happen. He might not be the guy the Wings need most to step up this series, but step up he will. I can guarantee you that.

The Penguins won't be as jittery as they were in games one and two of last year's Finals, where they didn't score as much as a single goal, but they'll still lose them both. And Detroit will, once again, take one of two hard-fought games in Pittsburgh. Only this time, they won't lose at home in game five. All games will be close, all games will be physical. But I see Detroit as the vastly superior team. Detroit in five.

I had to get this post done now, since the first two games will be over in the blink of an eye. I'm pissed at the league and NBC for letting this happen, but it doesn't help complaining about it. Just read Mitch Albom's column and you'll be up to speed. Go Wings!

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