(Photo courtesy of Carlos Osorio/AP)
I’m back from an excellent vacation and feel rested and ready to go. What does this mean for you, the reader? Probably not much, but I like to fool myself into thinking that my writing will be miraculously better after some R&R. Anyways…
In case you’ve been living under a rock or been religiously tuned in to prime time television on a major network, the Red Wings defeated those pesky Chicago Blackhawks last night to win the Western Conference and head back to the Stanley Cup Finals against our old friend Cindy Crosby and his Pittsburgh Penguins.
First, a tip of the hat to the Wings for getting it done without Nick Lidstrom, Kris Draper, Pavel Datsyuk and Jonathan Ericsson. That said, HURRY UP AND GET BETTER! With the Finals starting on Saturday, and Game 2 the next day (Thanks Uncle Gary!), the depth of the Wings will need to be exactly that: DEEP. It’s no secret that Crosby and his trusty sidekick Evgeni Malkin will probably cause some problems with their speed and playmaking abilities, but the depth of the Wings remains their greatest asset and will be crucial in leveling the playing field against the Pens.
Which brings us to the big question: Who will be lugging the Cup around the ice when it’s all said and done?
If you believe the media, go ahead and give it to the Pens right now. Krista Jahnke of the Detroit Free Press has already pulled together a formidable plethora of opinions, and the common belief is that the Wings are too banged up, too tired and just generally too overwhelmed by the superpowers of Crosby and Malkin. Apparently, it’s also destiny that the Pens win, as evidenced by the incessant references to the Oilers knocking off the Islanders dynasty in the Mid 80’s. And lest we forget, poetic justice MUST be served to Marian Hossa, who left the Pens after last season to come to Detroit to pursue his goal of winning a Cup.
Yes, the injuries are worrisome. And while many folks will point to the shorthanded efforts put forth in Games 4 and 5 against the Blackhawks, it’s realistic to believe that the Wings will struggle to sustain and win enough games to clinch the Cup while rolling four main defensemen. But, all signs point to Nick Lidstrom being back in the lineup on Saturday, and Jon Ericsson is shooting to skate with the team on Friday, with his return coming, at the latest, on Tuesday for Game 3. Offensively, Datsyuk appears to be getting better each day, and is just waiting to get his step back before suiting up. I expect to see him by Game 2 at the latest. I honestly doubt we will see Kris Draper again in these playoffs, but Justin Abdelkader and Ville Leino have done a solid job filling in for him.
Oh yes, the “timing” issue. Due to Uncle Gary being under the thumb of NBC, the only way the NHL was getting network coverage was if the games were played this weekend. While it’s not an ideal situation for a tired team, this isn’t the death knell that some are making it out to be. Both teams have played back-to-back games before. Both teams will be tired after Game 1. There’s nothing we can do about it. Suck it up, Wings. Adjust your game plan to control the puck, slow down the pace of the game and stay away from dumb penalties.
“It’s destiny that the Pens end the Wings dynasty. Just like the Oilers did to the Islanders.” For the love of all things hockey, PUH-LEEZ. If the Pens win this series, it has nothing to do with some sort of “hockey destiny.” The past is the past, and let’s leave it at that. However, recent history for teams looking to repeat as Cup Champions isn’t quite as favorable. Both Dallas and New Jersey lost the Cup in the Finals after winning it the previous year (Dallas: ‘99-‘00, NJ: ‘00-‘01). Fine. But let’s not forget that this year’s Wings squad has bucked seven years of history by clinching two series at home when they hadn’t done that since the ‘02 Finals. Point? You can make history say anything you want. Someone will write history in this series and his has nothing to do with what happened in the past.
Marian Hossa didn’t get along with Michel Therrien’s system. He left. It happens all the time in this league. Yet everyone still wants to make this all about Hossa vs. the Pens. Get over it. The Pens have. They realized that he wasn’t working well with Therrien, and he decided to make a move that was good for him. It just worked out that Therrien got the boot and the Pens made it back to the Finals. Hossa’s there too, and he’s not complaining or making a big deal out of it. Neither should you.
OK, that’s that. I’ve addressed all of the story lines that are permeating the Interwebs today. Now, you probably want a prediction.
I’ll say this: The Canes, Caps and Flyers are most definitely NOT the Jackets (ok, maybe), the Ducks and the Blackhawks. Has Pittsburgh been tested? In their mind, sure. In mine, eh. Yes, they are good enough to beat the Wings. Yes, the Wings are good enough to beat the Pens.
So what happens?
I’ll letcha know…