The Two Cents Stanley Cup preview
The last time a team from Detroit played a team from Pittsburgh for a championship in one of the four major sports leagues was 99 years ago. Honus Wagner's Pittsburgh Pirates defeated Ty Cobb's Detroit Tigers to win the 1909 World Series. Starting Saturday night the two cities meet again for a championship, this time on sheets of ice. And what a rematch. The Detroit Red Wings, one of the NHL's Original Six and probably the best organization in hockey over the past dozen years, take on the Pittsburgh Penguins, just two seasons removed from being one of the worst teams in the NHL. It's a storied franchise facing off against a Penguins team with the marquee player , Sidney Crosby. It's the old guys vs. the kids.
"The hockey gods are smiling so wide we can count their broken teeth,'' said NBC announcer Mike Emrick. Here's a breakdown of the teams, the series and the pick for which team will win it all.
You ain't seen nothin'
The Penguins superstars (and, yes, I mean "superstars'') Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Marian Hossa have combined for 59 points in 14 games. Throw in Ryan Malone (15 points) and Jordan Staal (four goals in the last series) and you have a team that resembles the run-and-gun Oilers of the 1980s. But here's the rub: the Pens have played against shoddy defenses in Ottawa, the Rangers and Philadelphia. They haven't seen anything like Detroit's top two defensive pairings. Nicklas Lidstrom and Brian Rafalski likely will be assigned Crosby, while Niklas Kronwell and Brad Stuart will check Malkin. The Pens offense won't run wild.
Best in the game
Lidstrom was just mentioned, but the guy is so good he needs his own category in this preview. He's the best defenseman in the game and has been for the past 10 years. Just having him makes it hard to pick against the Red Wings.
Most of Detroit's scoring comes from three players and one is hurt. Henrik Zetterberg has 11 goals and 10 assists, while Pavel Datsyuk has nine goals and 10 assists. Johan Franzen leads playoff scorers with 12 goals, but has missed five games with a concussion. He's out for at least Game 1. Still, there's no indication that the Pens inexperienced and suspect defense can slow Zetterberg and Datsyuk.
The best defense is a strong offense
Up front, the edge goes to the Penguins. But what about offense from the defense? No contest. True, the Penguins' Sergei Gonchar is one of the slickest offensive-defenseman in the NHL. He has 11 playoff points. But then you have to send out a search party to find out another Penguins blueliner who can score consistently. Meantime, the Red Wings trio of Lindstrom, Rafalski and Kronwall have combined for 32 points. Kronwall leads playoff defenseman with 12 points.
The Rodney Dangerfield Award
The No-Respect Award goes to ... oh, it's a tie. Neither Detroit goalie Chris Osgood nor Pittsburgh netminder Marc-Andre Fleury gets any respect, but they've been the best goalies of the postseason. The 35-year-old Osgood, who was backing up Dominik Hasek at the start of the playoffs, is 10-2 with a playoff-best 1.60 goals-against average. The 23-year-old Fleury is 12-2 in the playoffs with a 1.70 GAA. Osgood backstopped the Wings to the 1998 Cup, while Fleury is just in his second postseason. So give the edge to experience.
Isn't that special
Both teams have scored 16 power-play goals, but the Pens have scored theirs in 11 fewer chances than Detroit. Meantime, both teams are killing off penalties at 87.3 percent. But the Red Wings have been shorthanded 71 times in the postseason, while the Pens have been more disciplined, being shorthanded only 55 times. If the Red Wings send a parade to the penalty box, Pittsburgh will win the series on the power play.
Check your schedule
I hate the NHL's goofy schedule and love to rail on it every chance I get. So we thought I would point out that the Red Wings and Penguins did not meet in the regular season. And, oh, this is the third straight season the Stanley Cup finalists didn't play each other in the regular season. Can somebody please straighten out this nonsense?
Experience vs. youth
Which is better this time of year? Depends on your point of view. The Red Wings have 14 players who are 30 or older including 46-year-old Chris Chelios. The Wings will say experience is what you need to win close games for all the marbles. Meantime, the Penguins' youth is incredible, especially among its core: Crosby is 20, Malkin 21, Fleury 23 and Staal is only 19. The Penguins will say that their youngsters can skate all night long around Detroit's geezers, especially at the end of the long playoff season. Oh, just for fun, I’ll mention this: Crosby was born when Chelios was about to start his fifth NHL season.
Taking the shortcut
Neither team's road to the final was all that impressive, especially Pittsburgh's. The Penguins swept an Ottawa team that looked like it gave up after the first period of Game 1. The Rangers were decent, but the Flyers were an overachieving bunch with no defense. Meantime, Detroit played a banged-up Nashville team, then a Colorado team that grew old before our eyes. Dusting off the Stars was impressive, even if the Red Wings did have a 3-0 series lead cut to 3-2 before winning Game 6.
When it's all said and done
The chic pick is Pittsburgh because the Penguins have all the marquee names. But don't underestimate how good Zetterberg and Datsyuk are, and the Wings have Lidstrom, who is the best player in this series, with all due respect to Sid the Kid. Pittsburgh's offense is slightly better than Detroit's. Detroit's defense is way better than Pittsburgh's. And the goaltending edge goes to Detroit.
If you had to pick any organization to be right now, you'd probably be the Penguins, whose march to the Stanley Cup final is a year or two ahead of schedule. This team will win Cups — plural. But not this season. TJ's prediction: Red Wings in six.