What We Learned: How Red Wings and Penguins Prepared Blackhawks and Flyers
Someone was bound to mention them.
The Stanley Cup Final wouldn't feel right without mentioning the Pittsburgh Penguins and Detroit Red Wings, who have been part of the Stanley Cup Final the past two years, each winning a final.
Don't forget, Philadelphia and Chicago's biggest rivals are the Penguins and Red Wings, respectively. So it's strange in a way that we don't see Pittsburgh and Detroit, but instead we see their rivals Philadelphia and Chicago square off.
Both teams had to learn how to lose to their rivals before making it to the grand stage. Last year, both lost to their rivals—Chicago lost in the Western Conference Finals to Detroit in five games. Philadelphia lost to Pittsburgh in the Eastern Quarterfinals in six games.
The year before that, they lost to Pittsburgh in the Eastern Conference finals, and Chicago wasn't even in the playoffs.
It also shouldn't come as a surprise that the way these two teams will play against one another will be different compared to how Detroit and Pittsburgh played.
The Red Wings and the Penguins played their games out as if it were a chess match. Each player makes its move, closer and closer towards the offensive zone, setting up, while the defense tries to read it and prepare for the attack. Once the defense recovers the puck, they become the offense, and the offense becomes the defense.
To be blunt, they played with tactics and were patient with the puck.
This series should be the complete opposite from what the Pittsburgh-Detroit series was like, and that will come as pleasant news to many NHL fans. It's boring when you have two puck possession teams facing off against one another, but anything else—for instance, a run and gun team vs. a puck possession team or two run and gun teams facing one another—is fun to watch.
Philadelphia and Chicago play the opposite of what Detroit and Pittsburgh do because of how their teams are built.
For Pittsburgh and Detroit, their first two lines are balanced with skillful passers such as Pavel Datsyuk and Sidney Crosby, and they have talented scorers in Johan Franzen and Evgeni Malkin. To top it off, they're backed up with accurate offensive D-men such as Nicklas Lidstrom and Sergei Gonchar.
For Chicago, which has offensive D-men such as Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook, they dish the puck out to players such as Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, and Patrick Sharp—players with great shots and great speed, losing the defensemen on the rush and in the chase. Sometimes they throw the puck at the goaltender, creating a rebound opportunity for Dustin Byfuglien or someone else by the net to throw it in.
It's everyone in on the play—literally.
Philadelphia is comparable to Detroit in terms of offense, but it becomes different when explaining their defense. It's a much more physical team in Philly than Detroit, and even the forwards get in on the physical defense. Toews provides some insight on Flyers captain Mike Richards:
"I'd say he's a little more physical than I am. He goes for the big hits."
Hopefully that gives you some insight on how the forwards play on defense. They have Ian Laperriere, as well as Arron Asham, players that fit under the tenacity category and are not afraid to play tough or fight. Heck, even Scott Hartnell isn't afraid to fight Dion Phaneuf.
Okay, so maybe that last clip was a tease, but hopefully you get the picture. The whole team can throw down, and because Chicago isn't afraid of whatever stands in its way, it's going to be a very different series from the past two years. Expect a lot more post-whistle scrums, and possibly a fight.
It doesn't go without saying that all four teams have learned from one another. As I said, the Blackhawks and Flyers lost to the Red Wings and Penguins last year, and in order to win, you have to lose. They've lost to the champions and Stanley Cup finalists of the past two years.
What's also strange is that both finalists this year have had a chance of ending their Stanley Cup drought. The last team Philadelphia faced when they were in the Stanley Cup Final was...Detroit. As for the Blackhawks, they were in the Final in 1992, and they faced...you guessed it, the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Funny how things work in this league.
You won't find quotes from the Flyers on their past experiences with the Penguins in the playoffs—it was an early elimination, and it is considered "irrelevant." To be honest, it didn't serve the Flyers as much of an experience as their series with the Boston Bruins did.
Nevertheless, you have to lose to win, and they lost to last year's champions, who had to come back from a 3-2 series deficit from the Stanley Cup Final.
The Blackhawks, however, look back on their series with the Red Wings and last year's Stanley Cup Final, using it as a catalyst of motivation that says, "Why can't we do this?"
"When you get to the conference finals like last year, you get that close—even though we were only about halfway to winning a Stanley Cup last year—you still feel pretty close," Toews said regarding their outcome in last year's playoff run.
"It's kind of a teaser. Makes you want to win that much more."
When he talked to reporters, he felt like his team was comparable to last year's Penguins who won the Stanley Cup.
"I think last year, seeing the Pittsburgh Penguins win it, a very comparable team to us, against a team like Detroit, when it looked like it was over—they just kept kicking, and it made me think, there's no reason we can't do that here."
For the Flyers and Chris Pronger, they are taking a similar approach to what Penguins captain Sidney Crosby has believed in—taking the moment in and doing what you can with it.
"You dream your whole life about being in that position...and right at that moment you never know if you're going to get another chance," Crosby told reporters last year before the Final started.
"You know, just getting in, it gives you that opportunity," Pronger said. "And you've got to seize the moment and seize the opportunity."
Considering how different Philadelphia and Chicago are from their rivals, they have learned so much from them.
Without Detroit, where would the Blackhawks be in their progress? Toews and Kane might not be where they are right now because they wouldn't have a measuring stick to beat in the Central division. No Datsyuk or Henrik Zetterberg to compete with. No Lidstrom for Keith to look at as a model defenseman. Without the Red Wings, the Blackhawks' young talent might not have developed at such a fast rate.
The same goes for the Penguins. Where would the Flyers be if they didn't have a rival in Pittsburgh? They have to deal with the likes of Crosby and Malkin in the Atlantic division, so would this team be as defensively tough if those two weren't on the Penguins?
Would they have even made the trade to acquire Pronger if the Penguins didn't win the Stanley Cup last year? Without the Penguins, the Flyers might not have taken a great measure in acquiring Pronger to bolster their defense.
Chicago needed Detroit, as Philadelphia needed Pittsburgh.
So it shouldn't come as a surprise why Chicago and Philadelphia made it to the Stanley Cup Final. Put the seed numbers aside and ignore the fact of what the Flyers had to do to get into the playoffs and make it here for a moment and realize:
They would not have made it this far had it not been for them losing to their rivals, as well as learning from them.
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