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“With Wings, Penguins Can Fly” — The Dream Stanley Cup Final

May 23rd, 2008 · No Comments · The Hockey Hippie

Dynasty vs. Dynasty.  Skill vs. Skill.  These upcoming Finals games will be as good as hockey gets.  It’s Rocket Richard’s Habs vs. Gordie Howe’s Red Wings.  It’s Frazer –  Ali.  Borg – McEnroe.  Hitchcock vs. Scorsese.  Beethoven vs. Bach.

In the 3 years since the lock-out and with “the new NHL” we’ve had a one-hit-wonder win the Cup who never even made the playoffs any other year since about the Clinton administration, followed by the Disney Dirty Ducks action movie – neither team, IMHO, will be or should be remembered in hockey history.

Contrast that with the Detroit Red Wings, who, after this year’s performance by Montreal and their “fans”, has clearly become the undisputed Classiest Team in the NHL.  They haven’t missed the playoffs in nearly 20 years, finishing with over 100 points for the last eight years in a row, winning 6 President’s Trophies, 3 Stanley Cups, plus a half-dozen Norris’s, a hat trick of Selke’s and gawd knows what else, and have the winningest coach in NHL history, Scotty Bowman, up in the box guiding the troops, with Stevie Y riding shotgun.  This is the Gold Standard in hockey.  They’ve drafted well (say, Datsyuk 171st overall, or Zetterberg 210th!), are coached brilliantly, play a skilled game, and are fronted by a couple of the most artful forwards in the sport.

And the Penguins are what a hockey team is all about – youth and veterans, skill and brawn, with underdogs and superstars.  Plus they also happen to have two of the best forwards in the game.  And they’ve got the best points-per-game player in history in their skybox, and just a year ago their coach led them to the 4th greatest single-season improvement in points in NHL history.  Add to that:  the whole team was almost sold-off to another city (but saved by that player in the skybox), and they’ve been living on a shoestring budget for what seems like forever, and play in the oldest (but loveable) dump of a building in the NHL (“The Igloo”! – what could be better!).

Pittsburgh has an edge in offense, Detroit has an edge in defense, and both have solid goaltending.  One ‘tender is 10-2;  the other 12-2.  Of all the active playoff goalies, they are 1 and 2 in wins, 1 and 2 in GAA, 1 and 2 in save percentage.  Detroit’s Osgood has only dropped two games after taking over from Hasek;  and Pittsburgh’s “Flower” hasn’t let in more than 2 goals in any but four of his last 32 games, going 27-4-1!  And he’s all of 23 years old!

Both teams have never lost a game these playoffs when leading after 2 periods.

Both teams have knowledgeable fans in their barns that the hockey world can be proud of, and both teams have lifelong hockey people as team owners and a lineage of very astute GMs.  In fact, both teams have exactly the same composition for their starting line-ups:  both have more than half their team (11 starters) made up of draft picks who’ve been developed entirely within the organization;  and each team made five smart free agent pick-ups;  and each only needed to trade away something to get their remaining four players.  That’s some very smart hockey management right there.

In fact, with both teams so insanely and equally talented, it’s probably going to come down to coaching and preparation and mindset.  And in this regard, Detroit probably has the edge.  Not to mention the experience of all their players who have son the last game of the year before.

Both teams are a textbook blend of European and North American talent;  and one team is captained by a European, the other by a Canadian.  And this year has already made history with Crosby being the youngest team captain in NHL history to lead his team to the Finals, and if he wins will be the youngest captain in professional team sports in North America to lead his team to a championship.  Or, it’ll be the first European captain ever to hoist the Cup in the NHL.

Both teams have a history of current and former smart GMs, and neither team is assembled for a one-year push, nor bought their way to where they are by snatching other teams’ stars.  And both have fantastic, facile, effective Field-General coaches who’ve adapted to their opponents, and made their team greater than the sum of its parts.

Detroit has its Darren McCarty destitute & rehab comeback story, and the Penguins have local Pittsburgh boy Ryan “Bugsy” Malone as a leader of their offense.  It’s an English-Canadian goalie vs a French-Canadian goalie.  And in their brain-trust, both franchises have former Team Canada captains (Lemieux and Yzerman) who shared a Gold Medal victory together at the Olympics, and are now battling each other over the “silver”.

And they’re both “attack” teams –  just think about the wild end-to-end breakaway action we’re gonna see!!   The “Oh my god” dekes, and the “howdy do THAT?!” saves.  Lindstrom’s defense feeding Zetterberg and Datsyuk, and Gonchar & the boys feeding Crosby and Malkin!  And how these four forwards are going to be the masters who lead our sport for years to come.  And what’n the hell is with Gary Roberts and Chris Chelios??!!  I mean, they were battling in NHL playoffs before Crosby & Malkin were even born!  Literally.  And one of them’s wearing Gordie Howe’s uniform!

And speaking of Gordie, these Red Wings are breaking his and Terry Sawchuk’s playoff records!  That’s all.  And Crosby just broke the record of every pro athlete in North American team sports when he won the scoring title at age 19.

And WHAT is with these team playoff records?!  One team is 12-2 and the other is 12-4!  Huh?  Did I hear that right?  Is this the Habs best year vs. the Islanders best year?  It sure looks like Dynasty vs. Dynasty to me.

The only other teams in NHL history to go 12-2 or better in the playoffs  . . .

Montreal in ’68   —  12-1  (won Cup in 3 rounds)

Montreal in ’76  —  12-1  (won Cup in 3 rounds)

Detroit in ’95 – 11-1  — (but lost the Cup Final to new jersey 4-straight)

Edmonton in ’83    11-1  —  (and lost the Cup Final to the islanders 4-straight)

The Wings have been the best NHL team over the last decade, and the Pens will be for the next.

THIS is what hockey is all about.

It’s Original Six vs. Second Six.

Forget the Sistine Chapel, this series-opening face-off is going to be God and Adam down off the ceiling and touching fingers at center ice.

This is going to be one for the ages, the one we live for, the Final that will be talked about the rest of our lives.

It’s Edmonton — Islanders ‘83.  (if the Pens lose)

or it’s

Montreal — Philly ‘76    (if the Pens win)

It’s a turning-point Cup.

It’s like a good jam that builds to a crystalline moment of eye-bulging clarity.

It took three years, three verses, three time’s the charm to get here, but we’ve got it.  I have no idea how it’ll go in the final, but 7 games with encores would be sweet.

This year’s Final will be historic and insanely exciting even if it’s a sweep for one team, but here’s a bellwether:  If the first two games (in Detroit) are a split we’re in for an all-time classic.

The only prediction I’ll make is that both teams are capable of winning at least two games from the other – which means it goes to 6 games minimum.

Weird Facts:

On average, the Penguins are younger (by 5 years), they’re taller (by 2 inches), and they’re heavier (by 13 lbs).

Crosby lives with Lemieux.

Malkin lives at Gonchar’s.

Staal lives at Mark Recchi’s.

Scotty Bowman coached both teams to their last Stanley Cup!

Gary Roberts and Chris Chelios played against each other in the Calgary-Montreal Stanley Cup Final in 1989, almost 20 seasons ago.

Chelios has played in more NHL playoff games than any other player in history.

Since the NHL switched to the current format after the lockout, each Division will have sent exactly one, and only one, team to the Stanley Cup Final:

North-East  –  Ottawa

South-East  –  Carolina

Atlantic  –  Pittsburgh

North-West  –  Edmonton

Pacific  –  Anaheim

Central  –  Detroit

And get this!  –  In the 3 years since the lockout and the rotation of teams playing only 2 divisions in the other Conference each season, in all 3 SCFs since the change, the two Final teams have NEVER met during that regular season.  What are the odds of all that?!  Answer:  The Hockey Gods are smiling.

The last 9 Stanley Cups in a row have all gone to the team with the home ice advantage in the series.

Also:  This is guaranteed to be one of the closest Stanley Cup Finals in history.

Detroit & Pittsburgh’s 210 mile separation is the closest any two teams playing for the Stanley Cup have ever been from one another – except for the Islanders – Philly in 1980 (120 m), and Boston – Rangers in ’72 (189 m).  (Det-Chi = 239; Det-Tor = 244).

All games start at the same time wherever you are  –  8 PM in the East.

The game-day pattern goes:

Saturday, Monday, Wednesday,

Saturday, Monday, Wednesday,

Saturday (game 7)

easy.  🙂

Enjoy the speed, skill, chess n drama!



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For more hockey stories . . . check out the time I snuck onto the Penguins team bus during the playoffs.

Or the description of Blue Heaven at Madison Square Garden.

Or this amazing primer of Everything You Need to Know about hockey at the Olympics.

Or the complete printable Olympic team rosters with positions, stats, jersey numbers and everything for all the main teams.

Or there’s this nice printable one-sheet of the Penguins playoff roster.

Or a similar printable one-sheet for the Red Wings playoff roster.

Or a riff on how Canada’s flagship broadcast Hockey Night In Canada has suddenly become good again.

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by Brian Hassett     

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