One look at the benches in game one of this season’s Stanley Cup finals series was enough to tell you which team was the older of the two.
While the Penguins’ otherwise clean-shaven chins were covered with sporadic patches of downy fluff, the grizzled, gnarled, full-on beards of the Red Wings players made each one look like they’d graduated with a full degree from the school of hard knocks.
To the untrained eye, it looked like babies versus bears.
To those of us accustomed to the annual sight of the playoff beard, it made us rethink any assumptions that the Penguin kids would run rings around the old men of Detroit.
After all, beards like that are not to be messed with.
Rather than being a sign that the Detroit players were past it, the mass of facial hair from the West was a symbol of determination, experience, and damn hard work.
The Wings were making a statement to their opponents: if we can deal with the itch, the rash on our wives’ faces and the contant remnants of food around our mouths, we can beat you whipper-snappers easily.
As the puck made its way past Marc-Andre Fleury for the fourth time that evening, it was a statement that seemed difficult to refute.
Of course, it’s something of a fallacy to think that the Wings are really that much older than the Pittsburgh boys.
With average ages of just 30 and 27 respectively, there’s isn’t quite the generation gap that hair would suggest.
However, there are a few gulfs of experience between the key players in each team.
Osgood, at 35, is 12 years older than his Pittsburgh counterpart. Holmstrom has 14 more years under his belt than the 21-year-old Malkin, and the currently absent Chelios, unbelievably, has been playing in the NHL since young Sidney was just a glint in Mr. Crosby’s eye.
With seven players over 35 to Pittsburgh’s two, it’s easy to assume that it would be Detroit who would lack in speed and struggle to keep up with the youthful Pens.
And yet the 4-0 scoreline of the first game was something of an understatement. The Red Wings didn’t just beat the Penguins—they made them look like silly little boys.
It may have started with Fleury struggling to find his feet as he came out on to the ice, but by the end of the match it had spread to the whole team.
Crosby, Hossa and Malkin were almost invisible as their opponents sunk three in the third, including one brilliant finish on a short-handed breakaway. Even when they did show up on the radar, Osgood had more than enough to stop their attempts on his territory.
But it wasn’t just scoring that the Western Conference champs did more of: they out-shot, out-hit, and ultimately outclassed the Penguins whilst barely breaking a sweat.
Unfortunately for Pittsburgh, game two was more of the same.
Though the shock of their first loss had subsided a little, and Osgood was definitely kept busier than he had been two nights previously, the Penguins were still kept at a safe distance as Detroit forechecked them into the ground.
However, the frustration was starting to show, with the Pens hitting more and taking unnecessary penalties at inconvenient times, allowing the Red Wings to yet again go 3-0 up in the third.
As the inevitablity of their second loss became clear, the Pens really showed their youth by reverting to childish tactics, sucker-punching and pulling cheap-shots in a metaphorical tantrum, which, like all tantrums, did not help them one bit.
They may have let the younger boys play this time, but game two still belonged to the Red Wings.
From the first two games of this finals series, then, it looks as though the "oldies" of Detroit are teaching the boys of Pittsburgh a valuable lesson in playoff hockey.
If the Penguins don’t want to watch their Stanley Cup dreams become as unattainable as proper facial hair, it’s a lesson that they need to learn, and fast.
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