May 20, 2008
I had the pleasure of doing two radio hits last night with Zack Cooper on The FAN 590 in Toronto and with my buddy Simon Tsalikis on The TEAM 990 in Montreal. Both conversations focused on the Stanley Cup Finals between the Pittsburgh Penguins and the Detroit Red Wings. Both interviews featured shock and awe at the fact that we finally have two heavyweights ready to come out punching; instead of one heavyweight and a flyweight that lucked his way to the title match with gritty forwards and a hot goalie, like we usually see.
Both guys asked me for a prediction, and I gave them one: Penguins in seven. And then I amended that pick by acknowledging the piss-poor luck of NHL fans; telling each of them that there was also a good chance this could be a Red Wings sweep. It was at that point that Simon inquired what, exactly, I had been drinking.
Look, I'm a born cynic (thanks Jersey) and a die-hard pessimist (thanks, NY Jets fandom). When I read curmudgeonly NBC Sports columnist Mike Celizic get on his knees for Sidney Crosby and the "hockey royalty" of the Red Wings, I start to get jittery about whether this series will not only fail to live up to the hype but won't even meet our basic entertainment requirements. We've waited so long for a blockbuster like this; what if it turns out to be "The Phantom Menace," with Marc-Andre Fleury as Jar-Jar?
Detroit is the early favorite, and they're the team that's going to determine how deep these finals will go because, as our own Ross McKeon writes, they're the superior talent. Scott Burnside of ESPN explained that Detroit is a master at puck possession, and has veteran physical players who could make life miserable for someone like Evgeni Malkin. It's a significant advantage.
At the same time, they're so damn good at their own blue line. Much like the 2000 Devils, these Red Wings can stack four at the defensive front and still transition into an odd-man rush the other way. It's uncanny. Their defensive prowess feeds my pessimism for this series: The one game where the Penguins looked ordinary was Game 4 in Philly, when the Flyers yanked the welcome mat away from the Pittsburgh's attacking zone and the Pens couldn't do anything on the rush. Detroit does that, like, every night; and they'll be able to match defensively for those first two critical games at the Joe.
I'm rooting harder than anyone for this to be, in the words of Bubba from Canes Country, "a classic match-up of two juggernauts." But it's the 25th anniversary of another battle between a collection of confident winners and a younger foe on the precipice of a dynasty. So are the Penguins ready to conquer the NHL, or do they wait their turns like Gretzky and the Oilers?