On a morning when the mainstream media storyline for Game 6 of the Stanley Cup finals appears to be that the Detroit Red Wings are too old to recover from a triple-overtime game, veteran columnist Ryan Pyette of Sun Media deserves some points for originality. Because we've read many, many takes on the playoffs this year, and this has to be the first time anyone has claimed that a Pittsburgh Penguins Stanley Cup champion would be a total fluke:
The Pens might somehow find a way to go on to win the Cup. But it's going to feel a lot like 1995 when the powerhouse Red Wings -- one of the most successful clubs ever assembled -- was quickly dismissed by the New Jersey Devils. It was gimmicktry, bounces and timely goals that did that team in.
There's a difference between being the best and being champions, as strange at that sounds. Just ask the 2007 New England Patriots about that.
Mark it down, ladies and gentlemen: June 4, 2008. The first time in the history of hockey that the 2007-08 Pittsburgh Penguins were compared to the 1995 New Jersey Devils.
Let's set the record straight: The '95 Devils were more than "gimmicktry, bounces and timely goals." They were a deep team that cycled four lines in a perfectly executed system, with players like Scott Stevens and Scott Niedermayer holding down the fort defensively in front of Marty Brodeur. They completely outworked the Red Wings for four games; if they were lucky, then they made that luck. Devils fans have heard that the 1995 Cup was a fluke for years, but only because the NHL played half a season -- not because they somehow Forrest Gump'd their way to a title over Detroit in the finals.
But let's return the focus to the 2008 Penguins, and how utterly ridiculous this claim really is.
Pyette contends that the Red Wings are the superior team, and there's no question they are. But he seems to view this match-up as some complete disparity; as if the Penguins were some blessed No. 8 seed out of the East playing above its head, instead of a team that was two points away from a conference title. To further the notion that the Penguins fit the model of previous "unworthy" Cup finalists, he floats the idea that Marc-Andre Fleury has been the kind of hot goalie who carries those inferior teams to glory:
There's no arguing it. Most of the Stanley Cup finals has followed a familiar flow.
The Wings dance through the neutral zone, attacking the Penguins goal and last-man-standing Marc-Andre Fleury.
If he's arguing that the Penguins' defense is porous to the point where Fleury faces a ton of shots, he's right: He's faced 580 shots in 19 games. But has Fleury been a goaltending god back-stopping an average team? Check out his numbers round by round. He's got a chance at the Conn Smythe thanks to Game 5, but he's not exactly been Giguere '03 this playoff run.
But let's tackle the broader theme here, which is that there's a difference "between being the best and being champions." Is there any mathematic, intellectual, athletic or common sense measurement by which the Pittsburgh Penguins would not be considered "the best" team in hockey is they rally from a 3-1 deficit to win the Stanley Cup?
More to the point: If the Red Wings blow a 3-1 lead in the finals, can anyone rationally still claim they're "the best" team in hockey and a king without a crown?
The Penguins had 102 regular season points. They were 12-2 before the Stanley Cup finals. Their roster is dotted with star players, great young talents and solid veterans. So calling their potential victory over the Red Wings inferior or fluky or counterfeit is, perhaps, the dumbest thing we've read this entire postseason. (Keeping in mind we don't usually read our own blog, haters.)