Are the Detroit Red Wings the Most Dangerous Bottom Seed Ever?
You hear it every year around this time.
No one wants to play so-and-so in the first round.
This declaration usually refers to a seventh or eighth seed team made up of a bunch of plucky, young upstarts with designs on pulling off an upset in the first round.
Alternatively, such teams could be relatively veteran squads that didn't do much during the season, but are heading into the playoffs on a tear and thus, might ride that wave deep into the playoffs.
I'm not sure when the last time someone said, "Nobody wants to play the Detroit Red Wings in the first round."
If it was said anytime over the past two decades, the insight and profundity of that statement would be tantamount to, "Fire is hot."
Of course no one ever wanted to play Detroit in the first round, or any round for that matter.
They were usually a first seed, had just won a President's Trophy, were defending a Stanley Cup title, snagged the best free-agent available during the summer, as well as a key trade-deadline pickup that added depth.
Having to match up against a team like this is enough to give anyone heart palpitations.
This year, however, this isn't the case in Detroit.
The highest they could possibly finish is fifth, but it wouldn't be a big surprise to see them enter the playoffs as their current, seventh seed position.
Still, the phrase, "No one wants to play the Detroit Red Wings in the first round" is being heard more often than Lady Gaga's "Pokerface."
For no team in the NHL knows more about winning in the playoffs than the Detroit Red Wings.
And let's clarify what that means.
A lot of franchises have winning histories. However, it isn't Detroit's history of winning that makes them dangerous, but the fact that the guys who won them championships in the past, are still there today.
Winning isn't just something associated with the winged-wheels on the jerseys, but with the hearts that beat behind them.
Aside from the fact that most players on Detroit's roster can accurately describe the location of every nick and scratch on the Stanley Cup, their talent in and of itself is something to be leery of.
Despite a season-long malaise, Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg are, once again, playing as the best two-way forwards in hockey.
Having come back from a four-month hiatus thanks to a torn ACL, Johan Franzen is returning to form as Detroit's biggest and baddest one-man scoring machine.
Despite the hopes and prayers of forwards throughout the league, Nicklas Lidstrom doesn't look any more beatable at 39 (soon to be 40 on April 28) than he did at 29.
Then there's rookie surprise Jimmy Howard in net.
Howard provides what Detroit's opponents hope will be a much needed equalizer as he remains Detroit's largest question mark.
It isn't a question of Howard's ability or competitiveness, he's proved to have high doses of both this season.
Rather, it is the fact that, like many of his conference colleagues, he has exactly zero playoff experience.
Despite the team's confidence in Howard, writing off his lack of experience as anything but a legitimate concern would be foolhardy.
It may very well be the case that Howard stumbles out of the gate as a first-time playoff starter and could put Detroit behind the eight ball in the first round.
Though some teams may be crossing their fingers for this to happen, the alternative may be worse.
For no team in the league, sans Detroit, has a three-time Stanley Cup winner riding the pine with the uncanny ability to come off the bench and suddenly turn into the best goalie in the playoffs.
Chris Osgood is Detroit's unlikely ace in the hole.
Though he's turned in yet another miserable regular season, Osgood has proved time and again that, when it's time to win a playoff series, he's more than capable of answering the call.
Lastly, a word must be said about Detroit's coach.
Mike Babcock has already won a championship this year, in February with Team Canada.
This not only provided a valuable addition to Babcock's coaching credentials, but a unique opportunity to get to know the best players on teams he could face as playoff opponents.
Though he expressed his admiration for players like Patrick Marleau, Joe Thornton, Jonathan Toews, and Roberto Luongo, no coach worth his salt spends any significant amount of time marveling at his players' strengths.
No, a coach devotes himself to picking out each player's weaknesses in an effort to make them better.
What situations tend to put them off their game? Do they get rattled? What bad habits do they tend to exhibit and when do they exhibit them?
These are the things Mike Babcock spent a significant amount of time figuring out while with Team Canada, for even the best players in the world have some flaws and Mike Babcock is about to share this knowledge with 23 men in red in the hope that they'll put it to good use.
If there has ever been a bottom-seed team with more talent, experience, and coaching ability than the 2009-10 Detroit Red Wings, seriously, let me know, because I can't think of one.
Citing all of the above, let me know join the chorus, "Nobody wants to play the Detroit Red Wings in the first round."
While I'm at it, let me leave you with an equally enlightening thought, "Water is wet."
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