Oh, hey, there's a thing starting tonight on NBC: the Stanley Cup Finals. Pittsburgh finally got it's proverbial shotgun and unloaded into the ZombieCanes to sweep them. Detroit went more dramatic with two overtime wins in their 5 game victory over Original Six rivals Chicago. It's a rematch of last year's Stanley Cup Final where Detroit took home sports' greatest trophy in 6 games. I know the Devils aren't involved and I do wish they were; but if you love hockey, you owe it to yourself to watch the Finals. I haven't been disappointed by the Finals in over a decade as it determines that the winners are nothing short of deserving and the hockey is nothing short of tons of excitement
This year, the situation is different now between the two teams. The Penguins have been stronger on defense, they have gotten scoring from players not named Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, and they have a reason to make Marian Hossa miserable for signing a short deal with Detroit. The Red Wings still have fantastic depth that makes their injury woes not a total problem, the hotter goaltender in Chris Osgood, and the man who I think has best nickname I came up with in the series: Darren "Mythril" Helm.
With all sorts of previews happening at Pensburgh and Winging it in Motown as well as at other SBN blogs like Mirtle's From the Rink, Hoag's On the Forecheck, and Lefebvre's Habs Eyes on the Prize. I figure I should join in on the trend at the last minute. Only I'm going to state how I think each team will blow it in the SCF.
The Detroit Red Wings will not repeat if...
- Their defense plays too aggressively. As we saw in the Washington and Carolina series, Pittsburgh will burn you if you provide them so many odd man rushes. With Nicklas Lidstrom's health as a possible concern, the remaining members of the defense need to be especially careful against the Malkin and Staal lines. Detroit's defense is the definition of solid, but they cannot afford to be over confident.
- In general, the Red Wings cannot approach any game where they feel they should walk over the Penguins. Overconfidence leads to lackadaisical play, stupid decisions to split up lines, and usually a team wondering why they lost a game they should have been more competitive in. Pittsburgh has no reason to be overconfident as they lost to Detroit in last year's finals; Detroit has to avoid this specter.
- They get too physical or react too much in response to Pittsburgh's Brooks Orpik, Hal Gill, etc. While it didn't kill them against Chicago, Detroit's penalty kill is still effective only 73.7% of the time in this post season. While Pittsburgh's power play has been Devils-esque at times, they aren't like Carolina on the power play and I would hope the Penguins will attempt to draw as many calls as possible. The Red Wings should remain well-disciplined as possible or they risk giving Pittsburgh a massive advantage. Detroit is frightfully great in 5-on-5 hockey (1.84 F/A ratio), they need to keep the game there as much as possible.
- A reliance on Pavel Datsyuk. The Red Wings have depth, they've been getting points from Dan Cleary, Valterri Fippula and Darren Helm in addition to the more noticible names of Henrik Zetterberg and Johan Franzen. A long standing question for Detroit has been when Datsyuk will "awaken" in this postseason. Despite 95 points in the regular season, he has 7 in the playoffs. Hossa at least has 6 goals and 12 points, for what it's worth. Detroit has been doing very well as it is without him being the big scorer. If they are forced to change and forced to pin their hopes on Datsyuk, it could spell big trouble provided he continues to not produce.
The Pittsburgh Penguins will not win their first Cup since 1992 if...
- They get stupid with the physical play and keep taking penalties. While the Penguins' penalty kill has been more effective than Detroit's at 83.4%, the Red Wings have a jaw-dropping 25.7% effective rate on the power play this post season. The Penguins need to be very cautious with what they do with their sticks, elbows, hands, and the timing of their hits. Kris Letang (26 PIM), Evgeni Malkin (22 PIM), Brooks Orpik (16 PIM), and Chris Kunitz (15 PIM) need to especially careful they aren't in the box as much as they have been.
- The wingers can't keep up with the studs. Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin have been nothing short of sensational this postseason. They both lead the league in scoring with 28 points each, carrying the Pittsburgh offense. Crosby in particular has been lethal with 14 goals on 63 shots, a remarkable shooting percentage of 22.2%. With Detroit having the best defense the Penguins will see in this postseason, expect Crosby and Malkin to pull of some amazing moves and take some risks to rip holes in them. For this to work, Bill Guerin, Chris Kunitz, and Ruslan Fedotenko - who have helped out so far - need to step up their games. Crosby and Malkin will not be able to do all this alone and Pittsburgh really doesn't want to get into close games with a team that has the hot goaltender and wall-like defense.
- The Penguins defense panics in response to Detroit's offense. The Red Wings have been averaging 39.5 shots a game. While Hal Gill and Rob Scuderi have been great, I do not expect Detroit to let up on the barrage. If anything, the Penguins should just accept that the Red Wings are going to shoot, shoot, and shoot some more. Marc-Andre Fluery and the defense has faced tons of shots before. With the added pressure of the fact these are the Finals, the Penguins will need to stay calm when Detroit is firing away from seemingly everywhere on the ice. This can be manageable if the shots aren't from rebounds or from Red Wings wide open on Fluery's flank. But that can't be done if they are skating around like chickens without heads.
- Pittsburgh forgets their motivation for the Finals. This not just a chance to win a Stanley Cup, but a chance to take revenge on the team they lost to in last season's playoffs. Repeat match-ups in the Finals are rare in the modern era. The last time this happened was in 1983 and 1984 when the Islanders and the Oilers faced off for Lord Stanley's Cup in consecutive years. In the first series, the Islanders swept the Oilers for their fourth straight Cup. In the 1984 re-match, the Oilers took the Islanders to school in 5 games, effectively ending the Islanders' dynasty (4 straight Cups), and started off on a period of dominance alone. I cannot help but think revenge motivated the Oilers in that one, even if it was only for a little bit. They may not have too many edges over Detroit on paper; but the Penguins have this additional motivation - I think they have to use this in order to succeed.
Of course, there are things both teams can do to blow it in the Stanley Cup Finals; but I feel these points are specific for each team. Hopefully they avoid as many of them as possible en route to another exciting finals.
Do I have a prediction? Well, based on what I think the failings for each team could be, I feel that Detroit has a better chance of avoiding it all. Lidstrom seems to be good to go for Game 1 and he'll continue to lead a defense away from pushing up too much; they have been here before which can guard against any overconfidence'; they have been successful in spite of Datsyuk; and Detroit has the second lowest penalty minute per game average (11.2, oh and Pittsburgh is the lowest at 11.1). I am not as confident in Crosby's and Malkin's wingers stepping up as much as I think they need to match and surpass Detroit's offense; and that could be the big difference right there.
Therefore, I think and predict that Detroit will take home a second straight Stanley Cup in 7 games.