Ah, the plight of the Detroit Red Wings fan. A never-ending pipeline of versatile players who range from all-stars to Hall of Famers. Enough banners to fully clothe a brontosaurus. An existence defined by high expectations, glorious fulfillment and hands that smell like Admiral Akbar.
The Wings face the Pittsburgh Penguins for the second consecutive year, in an attempt to win their second consecutive Stanley Cup. We invited some of the best and brightest Red Wings bloggers to take a seat at our roundtable and preview the finals, discuss the Penguins player they most fear and to give their impressions of Penguins fans.
Joining us for the roundtable are Christy Hammond of Winging It In Motown; Matt Saler of On The Wings; George James Malik of Snapshots; blogging pioneer Paul Kukla of Kukla's Korner; Tyler from The Triple Deke; and the man, the myth, the legend ... The Chief from Abel To Yzerman.
Coming up, a spirited discussion about confidence, concerns and occasional use of the term "bandwagon."
1. Your Cup winner, the number of games, and (briefly) why they'll win.
HAMMOND: This is a tough one. My prediction is based off of the assumption that captain Nicklas Lidstrom(notes) and defenseman Jonathan Ericsson(notes) will miss no more than one game in the series and Pavel Datsyuk(notes) returns at some point. If Lidstrom, in particular, misses more my prediction goes out the window. I believe the Wings will take it in seven games. Why? The team only got better from last year's Stanley Cup squad with the addition of Marian Hossa(notes) and some young guns (Darren Helm(notes) and Ericsson) have really stepped up this postseason. It's going to be a very close series and it could honestly go either way. I'm just hoping to make it back-to-back wins for Detroit.
SALER: Detroit, in five. It sounds crazy (and maybe it is), but I just don't see even the new and improved Pens beating the Wings' defense. One thing apparently lost in the discussion about Pittsburgh's new maturity, experience and drive is that the Wings are also new and improved, with added maturity and experience for the depth players (such as Helm). And this team isn't lacking drive. If the Wings get healthy (a big, important if), Pittsburgh will make it tight, but can't beat Detroit.
MALIK: I hate making predictions, so I'll just say Detroit, and I'll throw out the usual "six games," though it might take seven. Why will the Red Wings win? They have one more level of experience that the Penguins don't--they won the Cup last year, and their players both know the fantastic and sometimes life-changing experiences they can provide for themselves, their families, and their communities. The Wings' veterans, coach Mike Babcock included, also know how awful it feels when you win the Cup and see another team lift it the following spring, including five players who witnessed the New Jersey Devils sweep in Kris Draper(notes), Nicklas Lidstrom, Tomas Holmstrom(notes), Chris Osgood(notes), and Darren McCarty(notes) (who's along for the ride).
In the playoffs, the team that wins imposes their will upon the other team four times before it loses four times, and the Red Wings have both the team that can check the hell out of Sidney Crosby(notes), Evgeni Malkin(notes), et. al. while receiving clutch performances from so-called "depth" players ... And the Penguins' unrequited hunger for winning the Stanley Cup this time around has nothing on the Red Wings' desire to defend what's theirs -- on personal, familial, team and community terms.
The Wings want to keep the Cup for themselves, their families, their teammates (Marian Hossa and Ty Conklin(notes) included), and the citizens of greater Hockeytown. I've never experienced an outpouring of plain old hockey love like last season's Stanley Cup parade, and I believe that the Red Wings are determined to deliver a sequel to supporters who live in a region that's scraping economic bottom...
Bottom line, however, they want to keep what's theirs, and if that means kicking an even more determined opponent off the summit of hockey's Mount Everest so that they can claim the pinnacle for their own...The Red Wings should exceed the Penguins' levels of will and determination. This series is nothing less than a knock-down, drag-out dogfight on hockey's highest ground, and you don't win unless you break your opponent.
KUKLA: This series will become a classic. Wings in seven, they score late in the 3rd period or early in OT. Hockey fans will be talking about this series for a long time.
TYLER: I picked the Wings over Pens in 7 games back in October. And because I'm a self-serving hack, I'm not going to let petty things like opinion or intuition possibly get in the way of my pathetic destiny. For all you know, I might think the Pens are going to win in 3. But my official prediction reads Detroit in 7.
If I was going to offer some rational insight, I'd say that the big guns will cancel each other out, and the Dan Cleary's and Darren Helm's of the world are going to be the difference. That's a roundabout way of avoiding the obligatory usage of the word "depth" -- a word that will bludgeon hockey fans over the head in Finals previews during the next two days.
CHIEF: Red Wings in 5 and the only Pens win will be in OT in Game 3. Lidstrom will be healthy and, once again, he and Zetterberg will shut down Crosby and Malkin. Completely? No. But enough to let Detroit's forward depth prove to be a factor.
2. The player on the Penguins who most worries you and why.
HAMMOND: Evgeni Malkin. If you've seen his play this postseason or for the past two regular seasons, you'll know why I say that. I believe the Wings will be able to contain one of the two key forwards (Sidney Crosby or Malkin) and I think Malkin will give us more problems.
SALER: Sidney Crosby. The guy has been a beast so far in the playoffs and seems to have matured the most of all the Pens. He's still got a whiny streak (the Ovechkin hat trick, for example), but he's growing up and is all the more dangerous for it. But "worries" is a little strong. Detroit's team defense is second to none, and while shutting him down will be tough, Lidstrom, Rafalski, Zetterberg, Datsyuk and Company can handle him (and Malkin).
MALIK: Marc-Andre Fleury(notes). I have no doubts as to the abilities of Crosby, Malkin, Bill Guerin(notes), Ruslan Fedotenko(notes), Sergei Gonchar(notes), Chris Kunitz(notes) (who we know from Anaheim), Mark Eaton(notes) (plus-10, and the Wings know him from his days with Nashville) to deliver clutch, if not dominant, performances, but the Red Wings face a goaltender who, with all due respect to Jonas Hiller(notes), has become a wall. The Wings need to do what they did against Hiller peppering Fleury with 35-plus shots, and they most certainly must make sure that Fleury becomes extremely familiar with the contours of Johan Franzen(notes), Tomas Holmstrom, and Dan Cleary's hockey pants. High shot totals, traffic, tipped shots, and strong rebound retrieval for second and third scoring chances, as well as a liberal dash of net-front jam, are all essential in establishing the puck possession game which allows the Wings to grind down their opponents in the offensive zone.
KUKLA: Marc-Andre Fleury. Granted, he had a very good SCF last year but could have been better. He has shown great signs of maturity during this year's playoff run and could get on a very good roll.
It would take me four lifetimes to properly convey how terrified I am of the words "Max" and "Talbot". What he did to Wings fans with 34.7 seconds in regulation of last year's Game 5 can only be described as genocide. He killed half of Michigan.
As for Sid, I'm obviously not trying to be edgy with this pick. We spend an unhealthy amount of time bashing the guy for whining and his, eh, fighting technique -- but if you've watched him the last month, you aren't exactly worried about him sneaking up on Zetterberg's taint (can you say "taint" on Yahoo? If not the generic "ball" or "yam"bag is fine). He's competitive as hell, and he'd rather watch Michel Therrien play naked Twister with his mom than lose to the Wings again.
The 28 points are absurd. He's also a plus-12. But what seriously has me worried is the Crosby/Malkin/Gonchar power play monster. The Wings' PK woes have been well documented, and they'll face a gargantuan task in the Finals. Malkin leads the NHL with 12 power play points, Crosby is tied with him for the league lead in PP goals (5), and 9 of Gonchar's 12 points have come via the man advantage.
CHIEF: Chris Kunitz because he has Duck in his blood. That makes him (a) very stupid but also (2) dangerous to me and my family. Obviously Thid and the invisible Geno cause concern, but the Wings will have a plan to at least minimize their impact.
3. Through your personal interactions or general impressions, briefly describe what a "Pittsburgh Penguins fan" is, in your opinion.
HAMMOND: Can't say I have any personal interactions with them for the most part. I guess I see it as two camps when it comes to Pittsburgh fans -- the bandwagoners who joined when the team drafted Sidney Crosby and those that have been around for much longer than that. The latter seem to be knowledgeable hockey fans who persevered during a rough spot with the team while the former appear to be the "I love Crosby" types who don't always know what they're talking about. But I couldn't make one general stereotype about your average Penguins fan.
SALER: Too many of them are bandwagoners, even relative to a certain class of Wings fan. Young and homerish, fanatical in the fundamentalist sense -- unable to handle contradiction or allow that any other team or player might be as good as or better than the Penguins or Crosby/Malkin. Every fan base has those types, but it seems to me, based on my admittedly narrow experience (I don't go seeking Pens fans out), that there is a higher concentration of them in Pittsburgh's. My childhood best friend is one exception that I know of.
MALIK: Penguins fans have inherited a fantastic hockey tradition and have a similar blue-collar aesthetic. The biggest difference involves the fact that most post-Jagr/Lemieux era Penguins fans have witnessed the rebirth of the Penguins as a dominant force, and their expectations and emotions reach bigger peaks and valleys than the followers of the Big Red Machine.
Most Wings fans simply expect the Red Wings to compete for the Stanley Cup each and every year because their talent level has allowed them to sustain their present level of excellence, and more than a few Wings fans subscribe to the team's, "Don't get too high when things go well, don't get too low when things go badly" mantra. I think that Penguins fans are riding a little higher in the water than Wings fans are at this point.
I think both fan bases dislike each other intensely, however, and something tells me that the interwebs will seethe and boil with bad blood and unpleasant, sometimes creative commentary over the next two weeks.
KUKLA: A defender of all things Pittsburgh Penguins. Quick to point out the greatness of Crosby and Malkin, just like any other fan base would of their home team and players.Very passionate and true to their team.
TYLER: Pens fans don't seem all that different from Wings fans. They're bipedal, breathe oxygen, and have similar sleeping and dietary patterns. From what I've observed they are as passionate about their hockey as any fanbase in the NHL, which is respectable. If I saw one on the street though I'd slit their throat.
CHIEF: I've never interacted with a Pens fan, and my conversational ability is sorely lacking due to that. But I've been working on perfecting my inflection when saying "woooooooo" so that should the opportunity arise I'll be able to keep up.