'Twas the night before Stanley when all through the house
Not a creature was stirring, not even Bettman that louse;
The sticks were propped up by the chimney with care,
In anticipation that St. Nik (Lidstrom) soon would be there;
All Canadians were nestled so snug in their beds,
While visions of Game Seven double OT danced in our heads...
The Stanley Cup Finals are upon us!!!
It is shaping up to be the most excitedly anticipated finals that I can remember. Story line after story line after story line. Hossa pursuing the ever elusive Holy Grail in the red and white instead of the black and gold; four of the top five players in the world battling it out for the chance to lift Lord Stanley's mug over top their head; redemption for a Canadian goalie to show that he has what it takes (and the Fleury story isn't bad either); the young rookie coach versus the crafty Wings general; the age old battle between octopus versus penguin; and of course the entire east coast of Canada pulling for their native Kid.
Last year many thought that the Penguins were too green to win the Cup (I was included in this group). Detroit was too experienced, too strategic, too good. This year, all Detroit has done is go out and pick up one of the better offensive players in the game, Marian Hossa. Pittsburgh has gone through a metamorphosis of sorts, from ugly larvae to blooming butterfly. They have added grit and leadership with Bill Guerin, they are a year older, wiser, and more determined. The saying goes, you have to lose in order to learn how to win. The Pens lost last year - let's see if they have indeed learned how to win.
The matchups certainly are more even than last season...let's take a look:
Fleury versus Osgood. In terms of pure talent it's not even close; Fleury is the more talented player. But Osgood has three rings on his fingers that gives him the edge here. Osgood knows what it takes to win. Much like Grant Fuhr in the 80's, he knows that it's not about how many saves you make, but when you make them. Fleury is playing with a lot of confidence right now...but this Detroit team has a more consistent attack than what he's seen in the first few rounds. Again, slight edge goes to Osgood.
WOW...talk about offensive talent! Crosby, Malkin, Zetterberg, Datsyuk, and Hossa. Then you have the secondary talent like Guerin, Cleary, Filppula, Franzen, Fedotenko, Samuelsson, Hudler, and Letang. Detroit has four lines that can score. Pittsburgh has a healthy and hungry Crosby and Malkin. If everyone were healthy I would probably have to give Detroit the edge...but since there are some "upper body injuries" and "lower body injuries" I am actually going to give the edge to Pittsburgh here.
Of the ten defencemen who will be featured in this series, Detroit owns five of the top six. Lidstrom (who will play in Game 1)and Rafalski are the top two hands down. Gonchar is probably the next best, but Stuart, Kronwall, and Ericsson are the next best. Even an 80% Lidstrom is strong enough to give Detroit the edge in this category. The true question will be, does the Detroit D have enough to overcome the Pittsburgh O?
Kudos need to go to Dan Bylsma for the outstanding work he did turning this ship around mid-season. The Pens were a team that was in danger of going from the Cup finals to not even making the playoffs. He brought them back all the way to the Stanley Cup finals with a good chance to win it all. That being said, he has never coached in a Cup finals before. He's never even coached in an NHL playoffs before this year. When he looks across the bench and sees Mike Babcock he sees a coach that he has looked up to for years. He also sees a guy who has proven he knows what to do in a pressure situation. It's hard to put a price on experience...but I can certainly score it; and Babcock wins this one.
So that's three to one Detroit. I think last year I gave Detroit the 4-0 edge. So Pittsburgh is getting better...but are they good enough to win? It's going to come down to just HOW injured the Detroit stars are. This time of year everyone is hurting...but who is willing to step up and battle through the pain? I question whether Detroit has the determination to go through all the agony that is needed to win "another" Cup. At some point success has to get a bit boring, no?
Here's how I see my options: Detroit is too good to lose in anything less than 6 games. If it gets to a 7th game I can't see Detroit losing. Pittsburgh is better than last year (they lost in 6 last year) so they should at least push a game 7. Again, if it goes 7 then I don't see how they can beat the experience of the Wings. So my only real choices are Wings in 7 or Pens in 6.
I'm like all the other Canadians in that timeless Christmas tale...dreams of Game Seven double OT dancing in my head. I really want Pittsburgh to win...but I just don't know if wanting it is enough. I'll be cheering for the black and gold...but I just don't think they are ready to beat the most dominating franchise in the past decade and a half. I hope I'm wrong.
Let's go Pens!!!