Friday, May 29, 2009
2009 STANLEY CUP FINALS
Well it's like dejavu, all over again! In a re-match from last years finals, the Detroit Red Wings look to make it two straight Stanley Cup Championships. The Pittsburgh Penguins are back for another shot at the champs and are playing terrific hockey. Evgeni Malkin spent the Eastern Conference Finals playing in another universe and pummeled the Hurricanes into more of a light coastal breeze. He has now matched the level that has been played by Sidney Crosby since the puck dropped on the playoffs. Crosby has shown up literally every game and these two guys playing at this high a level can give the Red Wings a real test.
Speaking of the Red Wings, this team is playing about as well as I have ever seen a team play. They move the puck with a crisp efficiency that looks downright artistic at times. The Wings play with complete lines with many inter-changeable parts. You have the scoring snipers in Hossa, Zetterberg, and Sammuelson. Next are the power forwards led by Johan Franzen, Holmstrom and Cleary. So who gets these guys the puck? How about Datsyuk, Fillpula, and even Jiri Hudler. This team is very deep and totally complete. Chris Osgood has silenced all his critics while getting stronger as the playoffs have gone on.
The key to this series would appear to be the health of Captain, Niklas Lidstrom. When he is healthy, the rest of the Wings D, Brian Rafalski, Brad Stuart and Niklas Kronwall can assume their regular roles in the line-up. Oh yeah, and 63 year old Chris Chelios can assume his role of press box analyst. If Lidstrom can slow down Malkin and Crosby and leave it up to the rest of the Penguins to have a big series, Detroit is the clear favorite. Home ice advantage is huge for Detroit as Joe Louis Arena seems to affect the psyche of the visitor seemingly every game. Detroit plays a high paced, well thought out attack and wears down the opponent with quick passing that leads to a barrage of scoring chances.
For Pittsburgh to win the series, they need to win at least one, if not both games this weekend. If Detroit goes up 2-0, Pitt won't win the series, even if they tie it eventually. A split is critical for the Penguins. Marian Hossa has stepped up his contribution in light of the injuries to Datysuk, Draper and Lidstrom. The former Penguin came to Detroit to win a cup and now is just 4 wins away. Marc-Andre Fleury shut the red hot Hurricanes down and must carry that over. Pitt shunned tradition and handled the Prince of Wales trophy upon winning the East. Lemiuex and company pulled that same move when the Pens won it all in '91. Crosby and Co. didn't handle the trophy last year and lost. It was time to try a new approach.
The bottom line is that Detroit is playing as well as I have ever seen a team play. I told many hockey fans I felt even though the Sharks had more points, Detroit is still clearly a better team. Detroit is at the top of the NHL food chain. This team appears to be headed for back to back titles. If Pitt can get back to the Igloo at 1-1 at the very least, they will have a shot. However, it seems like Detroit is destined to win it all again.
Player to watch: Marian Hossa
Possible sleeper hero: Ruslan Fedotenko
Likely series scoring leader: Evgeni Malkin
Prediction: Detroit in 6. (Just like last year)