It's been an emotional, unpredictable ride this season for Pittsburgh Penguins fans following their Stanley Cup finals loss and last summer's personnel changes. A coaching change, some significant trades, two intense playoff series against arch rivals ... and now, a shot at redemption against the Detroit Red Wings.
We invited some of the best and brightest Penguins bloggers to take a seat at our roundtable and preview the finals, discuss the Red Wings player they most fear and to give their impressions of Detroit fans.
Sharing their wit and wisdom on the roundtable are the irrepressible pranksters of The Pensblog; Brian Metzer of HockeyBuzz, who will also be covering the finals for XM Home Ice; Snoopyjode, who blogs at The Sidney Crosby Show; Frank D., who blogs at Pensburgh; Michael Dell of the great LCS Hockey; and Tony F. from The Confluence, which is holding a cool contest with Blu-Ray copies of "Miracle" for the finals.
So what are some of the top Penguins bloggers thinking about this rematch with the Red Wings?
1. Your Cup winner, the number of games, and (briefly) why they'll win.
PENSBLOG: Pens in 6. We are Pens fans. Like we would actually pick the Wings to win? Pens have the revenge factor going, of course. And the absence of Hossa this year actually makes the Pens better and their salary-cap outlook rosier. No ill will here. Last year, the Pens were just putting their toe in the water, and it was obvious. Why else does a goaltender fall when leading his team out for the opening game?
In retrospect, the series was over by the time Fleury got up. This year, they aren't peeking into the lion's den, looking for their demise. They are coming in screaming.
METZER: Penguins in six games ...This is not the same Penguins team that was so completely caught off guard by the Red Wings during games one and two of last year's Stanley Cup Final. This group is resilient, more experienced and very confident. They have a strong belief in themselves, one another and in the attacking system that Dan Bylsma implemented upon his promotion back in February. This isn't just the Sidney Crosby(notes) and Evgeni Malkin(notes) show either; they have been getting contributions from up and down their line-up, with 16 different players notching goals in the playoffs. Their defense is underrated; their special teams have rounded into form and they have a hot goaltender, all of which combines to create a pretty special mix -- one that can win a Stanley Cup.
SNOOPYJODE: The Pens, of course! They'll win Lord Stanley's Cup in 6. Why? All the pieces of the puzzle are there: Sid and Geno are literally playing the best hockey of their careers. The Pens have got veteran experience from guys like Guerin, Kunitz, Adams, and Boucher, but there's also a balance of youth with a lot of grit in guys like Talbot, Staal, Kennedy, and Cooke. Fedotenko keeps getting better, and Satan is blossoming at the best possible time. We've got one of the most underrated defensemen in the entire league in Scuderi. (How stunning was his performance against Ovechkin?!)
But the most important element came with the new head coach. With Bylsma's guidance, the Pens went from the outside looking in at the playoffs all the way to becoming the Eastern Conference champs (again!). Even as the playoff rounds progressed, you could literally see the Pens getting better and better with each game. Perhaps the biggest reason of all the reasons why the Pens will win is because they are hungrier for it. They've been thisclose to all the glory and now they want to know what it feels like to get it. There's absolutely no reason to think these guys won't win.
FRANK D: Last year when I said Pittsburgh I had a hint of reservation. This season I'm confident that the Pens can take the Wings for the Cup. They're faster, more experienced since last season and operate with an entirely different system than that of the Wings. Does that mean Detroit can counter it? Sure, but if Bylsma goes to work early I think a healthy Pens team can skate circles around the injured/limping Detroit one.
MICHAEL DELL: Pittsburgh in six. Last year, the Penguins were completely overwhelmed in those opening two games. Once they got their nerves out of the way, they played the Wings on even terms the rest of the series. No jitters this time around. They'll at least get a split out of Detroit. And if Lidstrom and Datsyuk are still banged up, the first two games being back-to-back could mean a quick 0-2 hole for those filthy Wings.
Keep in mind, while the Penguins know what they're facing in the Wings, this is an entirely different Pittsburgh squad in terms of style. The puck pressure and aggressive forecheck will be a brave new world.
TONY F: Penguins in 6. These Penguins won't be fawning all over the Wings this time around. That cost them Games 1 and 2 last year. They've got a legit chance to get a split out of Detroit, and if they do, they're going to be hard to beat. That said, the Pens will need a complete team effort to win. Every aspect of their game, goaltending, defense, forwards, has to be clicking. If not, it won't happen.
2. The player on the Red Wings who most worries you and why.
PENSBLOG: Darren Helm(notes). We're not gonna be jokes and say we fear Henrik Zetterberg(notes) just 'cause he's good. Helm's got like 10 different gears he can skate at, and he purposely jobs around for some of the game and then breaks out his 10th gear out of nowhere to generate a scoring chance and/or a huge goal. Undoubtedly on steroids.
METZER: Everyone is aware of what the Red Wings superstars are capable of, but Dan Cleary is the one guy who scares me in this series. He has taken his game to the next level in these playoffs and it shows in his stat line. He has notched 14 points (8G-6A), leads his team in +/- (+16) and shooting percentage (21%). The former first round draft pick has displayed great one on one ability, more speed than I gave him credit for and a knack for getting in behind the defense. Cleary got red hot at exactly the right time, while still playing the great two-way game he always has. He give's the Penguins another player to worry about shift to shift.
SNOOPYJODE: Osgood. Not because he's a particularly top-notch, spectacular netminder but because Osgood has an uncanny knack of being spectacular at exactly the right times.
FRANK D: Gotta go with Chris Osgood(notes). It's almost like he goes into an entirely different zone when the playoffs hit. As if he shrugs off the regular season as something to do before he gets to the playoffs and actually plays hockey. He was strong in every game this postseason. But hey, so was Cam Ward(notes). Hmmm...
TONY F: The player on the Red Wings who most worries you and why. Geez, put ‘em up on a wheel and spin it. But if I must choose one, it's that damn Zetterberg. He's such a two-way beast, it's maddening.
3. Through your personal interactions or general impressions, briefly describe what a "Detroit Red Wings fan" is, in your opinion.
PENSBLOG: A Red Wings fan. The word elitist comes to mind. You could imagine them all sitting around the GM plant talking about how awesome they are. They are fans of one of the most dominant teams in sports over the last 10-15 years. People from the opposing team's city will obviously despise them. We would go the "bandwagon, can't sell out your own building" route, but that would be hypocritical, since it's a widely known fact, per Puck Daddy's comments, that all Pens fans are bandwagoners and only like the Pens when they're good.
We hope the diehard Wings fans aren't the ones at the Joe who stand up like complete imbeciles and wave to the camera when the puck comes along the near boards in each team's zone. But then again, red wing fans are used to standing for long periods of time these days. Those unemployment lines are tough. Suck it.
METZER: Though the Red Wings had some lean years, they have been great for over a decade. That perennial success has created a group of fans that have an air of entitlement about them. They expect their team to win and settle for nothing less. At times they almost come across as overconfident and cocky, but that comes with supporting a team that rarely loses - Yankee syndrome if you will. I will say that the fan base is steeped in tradition; they travel well with Octopi in fist, and any group the counts Doctor Perry Cox in its ranks can't be all bad, right?
SNOOPYJODE: I've got nothing but good things to say about Red Wings fans. They've always been solidly behind their team, respectful to us, and in general fun to have on The Sidney Crosby Show. Last year, I even had a bet with one guy. Since he won, he got to be the guest blogger for the day. And yes, we're looking to have a bet "rematch" as well. I gotta tell you, I look forward to getting my retribution. ;)
FRANK D: A Detroit Red Wings fan, based on personal interaction, is comprised of a series of things. They love to embrace the term Hockeytown whenever feasible, exude immense levels of confidence and believe they can't lost. The term "dynasty" is thrown around on a season-by-season basis and The Joe is "the greatest arena ever built." They brag about their 11 Stanley Cups but really, in my mind, only have the rights to brag about four. Seven of them came when there were only six team sin the league and one of them was the Rangers so technically it's a field of five. And hey, you can't play against yourself so let's trim it down to four. Much like the Canadiens and New York Yankees who brag about the days when they were big fish in a small pond.
MICHAEL DELL: What do I think of Detroit fans? I don't.
TONY F: Through your personal interactions or general impressions, briefly describe what a "Detroit Red Wings fan" is, in your opinion. I'll be as tactful as I can, being a non-Wings blogger on Kukla's Korner can sometimes be hazardous for your health. Wings fans are passionate, dedicated and.... Aw, screw it. They're arrogant, conceited, pompous, cocky and egotistical. Other than that, they're cool.