(Mostly x-posted to No Pun Intended)
The Cup Finals are finally here and as luck would have it, it's come down to my Detroit Red Wings and Elly's Pittsburgh Penguins. As luck would further have it, the two of us will be hanging around in hockey hotbed Toronto this weekend trying to sway Sherry's unfavorable opinions of our teams. (Hey, it's only fair, last season we had to listen to 1,001 reasons to pick the Ottawa Senators all weekend.)
Regardless of the outcome, we at NPI think the highlight of this series is that it is going to have to be some amazing hockey. The two best teams in the league facing each other head on, the likes of which each other has never seen - not since preseason. Whichever team takes this series is going to have to be nearly perfect to do it. I fully admit to not knowing as much about the Pittsburgh Penguins as I maybe should, but in matching up the teams it's astonishing just how even these Cup Finals look like they may be.
Offensively, everyone is talking about the one-two punches of Sid the Kid and Evgeni Malkin vs. the Eurotwins and Selke finalists, Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg. There's basically no arguing these are the two most exciting, skilled combinations in hockey. Both duos have 40 point between them (20 goals and 20 assists for Pav and Hank, 13 and 37 for Sid and Geno), and both have proven themselves absolutely deadly. Perhaps because neither of the Eurotwins singlehandedly saved hockey (I kid), they don't seem to get the league-wide attention Crosby and Malkin do - but perhaps this will be the season that ends that. The Penguins pair is glamorous and offensively gifted, but the Red Wings duo excels at both ends of the ice, as obvious by their twin Selke nominations, and may be the more well-rounded. Either way, neither can be taken lightly.
Of course these aren't the only weapons for either team - Pittsburgh is finally getting their money's worth out of 20-point Marian Hossa, and the Wings, until he was sidelined with concussion symptoms, had a 12 goals in 11 games scorer in the Mule, Johan Franzen, as well as Tomas Holmstrom being a pest in front of the net. And of course something must be mentioned of the WWGRD phenomenon creating Gary Roberts - just not sure what that something should be (I'm a fan of the bracelets, for the record - but I'm going to have to boycott them through this series). Each team has established secondary scoring and substantial depth.
Both teams look strong on the defensive front. The Penguins who were originally thought to have a suspect blueline going into the playoffs added Hal Gill to compliment Sergei Gonchar among others. The Wings, however have the unflappable Nicklas Lidstrom (if they take the Cup this year it will be his fourth with the team, an honor he shares with the Grind Line and Holmstrom) and his new partner Brian Rafalski who combined are at least among, if not, the best defensive pairs in hockey. And then there's Niklas Kronwall and new addition Brad Stuart - don't call the Wings a soft team. These two will hunt you down. They will find you. And they will smear you across the boards. This defense has been a huge part of the Red Wings' success - they've seriously limited their opponents shots on goal, and if you can't get the puck on the net, you can't put it in, either.
And finally, the goaltending. Veteran Chris Osgood, a cup winner but often criticized as being the winning goaltender on a team that could have taken the cup with a pylon in net, fighting to prove his goaltending worth against relative newcomer, though not without any credibility to his name, Marc-Andre Fleury. Osgood (10-2, 1.60 GAA, .931 SV%) stole the start from Dominik Hasek and has been stellar ever since, but surely the Wings defense has played a huge part in that. Fleury (12-2, 1.70 GAA, .938 SV%) has been the Pens go-to goalie from the beginning and likely the stronger overall between the two, not to mention he's managed an admirable 3 shutouts so far, but he's also got inexperience working against him. Osgood should be on a mission - if he takes the Cup this year will it redeem him against all the trash talk he's heard since his last victory? The worst goalie to win a Cup is one thing, but I'm not sure you can argue the worst goalie to win two cups.
When it comes down to it, either team could have the advantage. Which will wind up on top, the youthful Penguins or the renewed Red Wing dynasty? Will Elly and I stay friends? Will the series be everything that's being predicted of it? We can only hope.
If you don't hear from either of us ever again following this weekend, I'm sure Sherry will have news on our hair-pulling, trash-talking, beer-consuming weekend exploits and the violent deaths they ended in - cheer for the Wings in my memory, will you?
Wednesday, May 21, 2008
(Mostly x-posted to No Pun Intended)