Over the past several years, the Wings have excelled due in large part to the world-class trio of Pavel Datsyuk, Henrik Zetterberg, and Nicklas Lidstrom. The skilled and possessive Red Wings style of play fueled a Stanley Cup run in 2008 and a return trip the following season.
The arrival of Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews (2007) brought hockey back to the forefront in the Windy City. Mirroring Datsyuk and Zetterberg's rise in Detroit, Kane and Toews quickly became the central pieces of an exciting and competitive team. Three years later, Kane clinched the Stanley Cup with a quick wrist shot from the left boards.
This season has presented challenges for both clubs. Going into the season, the Red Wings lacked consistent scoring outside of the Euro Twins, while the Blackhawks were looking to fill an apparent lack of depth at center.
Filppula answered the call for the Wings, asserting himself as one of the NHL's most underrated two-way forwards. Only Zetterberg and Datsyuk play the opponent harder. With great skating and reactive hands, Filppula has a nose for the puck. With 64 points on the season, his play in the opponent's zone has improved drastically. With more pucks going to the net, linemates Zetterberg and Hudler have not only embraced Filppula, but flourished.
Unlike Filppula, Kane is not enjoying a career year. In fact, this is the second year his numbers have slipped. Kane missed a large part of training camp as a result of offseason wrist surgery. In a somewhat questionable move, Quenville looked to move Kane, a natural winger, to center. Though Kane has excellent offensive awareness and playmaking ability, he turns the puck over and does not back-check.
With a handful of games remaining, Filppula has more goals (23) and points (64) than the heralded Kane (20G, 60P).
Patrick Kane is one of the more dynamic players in the league, so is Filppula's better play just a fluke?
Kane scored the Cup-clinching goal.
A- ... Patrick Kane had a stellar junior career with the London Knights of the OHL. On a line with future NHLers Sam Ganger and Sergei Kostitsyn, Kane's play skyrocketed him to the first overall selection in the 2007 NHL draft.
He won the Calder Trophy at the end of the 2007-2008 season, capping an impressive 21 goal and 72 point campaign. He finished with similar numbers the following year (25G, 45A, 80 GP). Before the 2009 season started, Kane became the center of an off-ice incident.
He made the most of the media scrutiny, scoring a career high 30 goals and 88 points. Off ice, he worked to establish a better image. In the 2010 playoffs, he recorded 28 points in 22 games en route to the Hawk's Stanley Cup victory.
Two years ago, the sky was the limit. Unfortunately, last year he recorded 73 points. Great numbers, but for a player as creative as Kane, more is expected. Off-ice incidents continued to draw negative attention to Kane. The Hawks fell short in the 2011 postseason, where Kane accounted for only one goal in seven games.
B ... Valtteri Filppula quickly rose through Finland's junior hockey system. He put up impressive numbers and was drafted as an 18 year old, in the third round (95th) of the 2002 draft. Filppula recorded an impressive 70 points and played a large role on the Grand Rapid Griffins during the 2005-2006 season.
He started on the Red Wings the following year, but only scored ten goals. He stepped up his game during the Red Wings consecutive Cup runs. In 2008, he scored five times and recorded 11 points as Detroit captured the title. His defensive acumen and responsible play were quickly noticed. He improved his point total the following postseason (3G, 13A, 23GP).
Filppula's problem has been offensive consistency. Until this year, he had not improved much from his 2007-2008 numbers (19G, 17A).
Filppula is earning the respect of his peers.
B+ ... During the 2011 offseason, Kane had surgery performed on his wrist. Heading into the season, coaches and management were looking to position Kane at center. This task was made more difficult as Kane sat out much of training camp due to the healing process.
With five games remaining, Kane has only 60 points in 77 games played. While 20 goals and 40 assists are respectable numbers, much more is expected of the world-class playmaker.
Kane lacks grit in his own zone and turns the puck over much too often. This negative trend over the past couple seasons landed Kane at the center of trade rumors involving Buffalo Sabre netminder Ryan Miller.
A- ... Filppula has set career highs in both goals (23) and points (64). He was the team's leader in points, until Zetterberg's recent hot streak. Unlike Kane, Filppula's excellent skating and awareness are noticed in all three zones. He is also playing with more confidence on the puck, shooting and working harder along the borders.
During Pavel Datsyuk's recent injury, the Red Wings were carried solely by the play of Filppula's line. It was a disappointing stretch for the team, as opponents were effective in stopping a one-dimensional attack; however, it did showcase how much Filppula's level of play had improved.
With the playoffs less than two weeks away, Filppula will be called upon to continue his impressive play. It will be the final test in what appears to be a breakout season. It is difficult to envision the Red Wings hoisting the Cup without Filppula as a key contributor.
Kane is very sorry
F ... Patrick Kane broke into the league as an 18 year old. His antics and youthful approach quickly drew the attention of young fans. Two years later, he was beating up cab drivers back in Buffalo. It was one of the more embarrassing moments in Chicago sports and USA Hockey history.
Last year, Kane found himself dressing for a respectable, yet career-low 73 games. The reasons for missed games were unclear and stories began to surface of late night escapades. Several scratches were credited to flu-like symptoms. Photos surfaced of him partying on such an occasion. Kane's priorities were misplaced and his team suffered as a result (He did bring the back the mullet).
A ... Valterri Filppula has been with the Detroit Red Wings organization for the better part of a decade. Not once has he been involved with an off-ice incident.
Several times a year, Filppula and fellow Red Wings volunteer in the community. On past occasions, Filppula has visited young fans in the hospital and hosted charity events.