The 2007-08 Stanley Cup Finals will be one for the record books. What has consistently been the best team in the league over the past decade and already proven themselves a decade will take on a team looking to start a dynasty of their own.
This series looked to be destined since round one. Both the Detroit Red Wings and the Pittsburgh Penguins have played as if unstoppable; combined they have scored 106 goals while surrendering a mere 57. The only way to determine the winner of this series is to go position-by-position and player-by-player and compare who is better off.
Let’s start with the forwards. The first names that come to mind are Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Henrik Zetterberg, and Pavel Datsyuk.
Crosby’s statistics thus far shouldn’t be a surprise. Four goals and 17 assists are modest numbers for Sid “The Kid.” However, his consistency is mind-blowing.
He put up eight points in the first-round series against the Senators, six points in the second-round against the Rangers, and most-recently seven points in the Conference Finals against the Flyers. He also has 11 power-play points (1 G, 10 A).
Malkin has begun to decline slightly in terms of numbers, scoring just two points in the final four games against the Flyers. But his 19 points are still good for second overall in the playoffs. Aside from his point totals, Malkin has been much more physical in his recent series-win over the Flyers, something he will need to continue if the Penguins want to win the Cup this season.
Zetterberg’s numbers in the postseason are very similar to those he put up in the regular season. He has a point in 12 of Detroit’s 16 games and is tied with Crosby for the lead in points with 21 (11 G, 10 A).
What is impressive about Zetterberg is that he can score whenever he wants. He has three goals and four assists on the power-play, two goals and three assists on the penalty-kill, and six goals and three assists at even-strength. He is a balanced scorer and a threat whenever he is on the ice. Oh, and he is a modest + 15 this postseason, not too shabby.
Datsyuk is another impressive name from the already overly-impressive Detroit lineup. Pair him up with Zetterberg and what do you get? A combined +27 to go along with a combined 40 points. Datsyuk has nine goals and ten assists.
But just as good as Datsyuk’s offense is, his defense is even better. He has a good shot at collecting this season’s Selke Trophy, which honors a forward for his defensive work. His back-check along with his speed might give Crosby and Malkin a little trouble handling the puck through the neutral zone.
Zetterberg and Datsyuk will be able to keep pace with Crosby and Malkin, which means this series will more than likely come down to role-playing forwards.
Marian Hossa is known as a star in the league, but he has taken a backseat to Crosby and Malkin in Pittsburgh. After starting off slow in the postseason, Hossa has scored 11 points (6 G, 5 A) in his last five games. He has to score goals in this series if the Penguins want to win this series quickly, which probably won’t happen.
Ryan Malone has stepped his game up to the next level in the playoffs. He is averaging just over a point a game and has scored at least four points in each series thus far. Malone is important to Pittsburgh, especially on the power-play. He has six points (3 G, 3 A) and is usually a benefactor of Mr. Crosby.
Johan Franzen will be a huge factor in this series…if he gets over his “concussion-like symptoms.” He is most likely out for game one, but if Detroit plans on winning the series, Franzen will need to return to the lineup immediately. He currently has the most goals in the playoffs (12), and more importantly, five of those have been game-winners.
Pittsburgh Notables: Petr Sykora (5 G, 3 A); Jordan Staal (6 G, 1 A)
Detroit Notables: Jiri Hudler (4 G, 9 A); Tomas Holstrom (3 G, 7 A)
Overall Edge (Forwards): Detroit
It was tough to distinguish who had a better offense, but that is not the case at all with the defense.
Pittsburgh has a solid defense. They have Sergei Gonchar, Ryan Whitney, and…Robert Scuderi? Gonchar has 11 points (1 G, 10 A) and has made some amazing defensive plays so far, as has his teammate Whitney. Combined they have 48 blocked shots this postseason. But sorry Pittsburgh, those two don’t stand a chance against the Detroit defense.
Three reasons why Detroit has a better defense: Nicklas Lidstrom, Brian Rafalski, and Niklas Kronwall. Forget the fact that these three have combined for 32 points in the playoffs so far. Detroit has allowed a mere 23.6 shot against per game. Chris Osgood might have a bad night in the upcoming Finals, he might even have two, but if he’s only face 24 shots, how bad could it be?
Although Pittsburgh is averaging 32.3 shots per game in the playoffs, they only averaged 27.7 shots per game during the regular season. Even if their shots-per-game does diminish in the upcoming series against Detroit, which it more than likely will, it will not affect Pittsburgh greatly; they believe in quality, not quantity.
Even taking all of this into account, Detroit still has a defense that no other team has completely figured out…yet!
Overall Edge (Defense): Detroit
Now that the other parts of the teams have been discussed, let’s get to the great debate: The goaltenders.
Marc-Andre Fleury has proven himself to be a more than adequate goalie in the playoffs. Fleury went 1-4 with a 3.76 goals-against average and a .880 save percentage in last year’s playoff debacle. However, he has redeemed himself this postseason posting a 12-2 record to go along with a 1.70 goals-against average and a .938 save percentage. He also leads all goalies with three shutouts.
Fleury has matured in net in the 14 games he has played this postseason. The rebounds which once gave him a problem early in his career no longer phase the young goalie. He is quicker in the crease and thus, has been a large reason for the Penguins’ success.
Osgood has put up very similar numbers compared with Fleury. He has a 10-2 record as well as a 1.60 goals-against average and a .931 save percentage. He, like Fleury, has been a large part to his team’s success. When Dominik Hasek began to falter early in the first round, Osgood was there to pick up the pieces, and some.
But there is a big statistic that stands out when comparing Fleury and Osgood: total shots against. Fleury has faced 364 shots this postseason and Detroit is averaging the most shots in the playoffs 36.3. Therefore, Fleury won’t have any trouble adjusting to the high shot totals that Detroit will more than likely put up.
But then there’s Osgood, who has had the privilege of only facing 268 shots so far. If the Penguins continue to average 32.3 shots per game, Osgood and the Red Wings could be in some serious trouble.
Overall Edge (Goaltenders): Pittsburgh
Special teams present an interesting match-up. Pittsburgh has scored on 25% of its power-plays so far this postseason, whereas the Red Wings have killed off 87.3% of the penalties they have taken.
Detroit’s power-play has converted on 21.3% of its opportunities, whereas the Penguins have also killed off 87.3% of the penalties they have taken.
Pittsburgh has scored one shorthanded goal, whereas Detroit has scored a whopping five (two from Zetterberg). But Crosby on the power-play is much more lethal than Zetterberg on the penalty-kill, barely.
Overall Edge (Special Teams): Pittsburgh
Pittsburgh and Detroit have been the two best teams this postseason and deserve to be where they are. The players and teams as a whole have put up the best numbers, but these numbers are going to have to give for one of the teams. But which team will give?
The Finals will come down to who will have to adjust more, and Detroit will have to do a lot more adjusting in their game play if they want to take out the Penguins young guns.
Neither of these two teams has played down in a series yet, which means the team that loses game one will be playing at a disadvantage. Since Detroit has home-ice advantage, it appears they have the upper hand. The Wings are 7-1 at home, while the Penguins are only 4-2 away.
But the Penguins have proven to be a better home team at 8-0, while the Red Wings are just 5-3 away.
This series is going to go seven games, regardless of the victor. The Penguins will not lose all four games at Detroit. They might even win a couple at Joe Louis Arena. But the Red Wings are going to have their hands tied trying to beat the Penguins in Pittsburgh.
Series Prediction: Pittsburgh 4-3