Stanley Cup Finals: Grande Finale ou Coup de Grace?

Scott WeldonCorrespondent IMay 28, 2009

PITTSBURGH - JUNE 04: Nicklas Lidstrom #5 of the Detroit Red Wings celebrates with the Stanley Cup after defeating the Pittsburgh Penguins in game six of the 2008 NHL Stanley Cup Finals at Mellon Arena on June 4, 2008 in Pittsburgh. Pennsylvania. The Red Wings defeated the Penguins 3-2 to win the Stanley Cup Finals 4 games to 2. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

This has been a great playoff year. It's the best I can remember in quite some time. My memory is admittedly suspect, but I believe a lot of what's happened this year in the playoffs highlights the things that are right with the NHL.

There have been marquee match-ups. Pittsburgh vs Philadelphia, Pittsburgh vs Washington, well really Pittsburgh vs anyone, they're just great to watch. There was Montreal-Boston and Chicago-Detroit for the original six fetishists. 

The old champions the Anaheim Ducks managed to take the new champions to seven games and lost by a goal in an old time classic series.

There have been unexpectedly good series. Carolina and New Jersey were back and forth 'til the last two minutes where Carolina finally finished them with two goals to come from behind. Washington and New York had an incredibly tight series and if Boudreau hadn't gone with Varlamov in game two we might never have seen Pittsburgh-Washington.

Boston came back from a 3-1 deficit with Carolina and almost won game seven in overtime. Pittsburgh came back from a 3-0 deficit against the Flyers in game six to close them out. In the Washington series, the team that scored first went 2-5.

Those games had flow. The young Blackhawks in Chicago spent two series spotting team's leads and then coming back on them in a flood. This technique was less effective against the red wings but made for exciting hockey while it lasted.

There were great player matchups: Chara vs Staal, Staal vs Staal, Crosby vs Ovechkin, Malkin vs Ovechkin, Malkin vs Crosby?, Richards vs Malkin, Brodeur vs Ward, Lundquist vs the caps, Getzlaf vs Lidstrom, Pronger vs Thornton.

There have been players who've tried courageously to battle past injuries, Gonchar on his one leg and Havlat with his concussion are the two most obvious examples.

There have been a bunch of happy stories. St Louis made the playoffs after a long hiatus. Columbus made the playoffs for the first time ever. Boston won a round and was within a goal of the eastern final.

They look to have finally put together a team that can compete for a while. Pittsburgh and Detroit both missed out on the post Stanley Cup run depression that has plagued teams in the recent past. Carolina had a long playoff run that let them make money for a change. Washington is still fun to watch. Chicago showed us that youth and talent can win. 

The biggest message I got out of these playoffs was speed kills. If you can't skate you're done.    

It was a fun playoff year. Then the eastern and western finals happened and the cream seemed to have risen. Pittsburgh swamped the suddenly outmatched Hurricanes in a quick painful sweep.

Detroit repressed the seemingly irrepressible Blackhawks. I was hoping for a seven game back and forth Spring Classic. We got an experienced team handling a young team in every aspect of the game. This was unfortunate and not a little disappointing.

Now we come to a Stanley Cup final rematch. This the first time this has happened in the NHL, and it makes me feel old to type this, in 25 years. The Oilers beat the experienced Islanders in the rematch when the Islanders were trying to win their fifth cup in a row.

That Stanley Cup signalled a changing of the guard as the Islanders faded and the Oilers became the new power in the NHL.

Are we ready to experience a classic watershed moment like that or is Detroit merely going to apply the finishing touch to an over-matched team of youngsters in Pittsburgh?  

The rosters on both teams are similar to what they were last year. Unfortunately the victorious Detroit Red Wings signed away the third best player from the losing Penguins when they got Marian Hossa in free agency.

During the finals last year when Malkin went missing Hossa was Pittsburgh's second best player. Couple that with the trade of Whitney to Anaheim and Gonchar's bad leg and I don't see how this Pittsburgh team can be better then the team that went to the finals last year and was dominated by these Detroit Red Wings.

Yet I believe they are a better team. Marc Andre Fleury has always seemed too high strung to me for big events. The world junior championships, the Stanley Cup playoffs always seemed to get him too wired to perform.

He's been better in the playoffs this year then last. If he can calm himself down I think he'll be better in this final as well. The defense with the loss of Whitney is worse then it was last year and slower. Boucher has been a good experienced replacement.

Letang's offensive skills seem to have improved while Gonchar was hurt during the regular season so that's been a bonus. Gonchar has been playing on one leg. He needs to stay healthy and upright.

Orpick is a good tough defenceman. Eaton, Scuderi, and Gill will be hard-pressed to keep Detroit under wraps. The real improvement in Pittsburgh is on the offense. Are Guerin, Satan and Kunitz better then Sykora, Malone and Hossa? Well no.

But Malkin and Crosby have made a quantum leap forward. They both have made huge strides because they're a year older and because of the experience they had last year. I can't believe Malkin will disappear like he did in last year's final. 

This Pittsburgh team is unlikely to get shut-out in the first two games like last years team did. Pittsburgh also has one of the leagues better shut-down lines with Cooke, Staal and Talbot or Kennedy and while Detroit has a depth that can't be shut-down they should make it hard for one line to score.

Detroit is better then the team that won the cup last year as well. I've contended all along that having Osgood in nets is like playing with one arm tied behind your back. That's proven unfair.

Osgood hasn't been the handicap I expected. He's always making the first stop. His glove has been quick and he isn't giving up the demoralizing soft goals that'll undermine a team.

Detroit has insisted on playing with other handicaps though. Holmstrom hasn't been scoring. Datsyuk, Lidstrom, Rafalski and Draper are hurt and still they win. If it's not Zetterburg and Franzen, it's Cleary and Samuellson, it's Hossa and Filpuula. There is always someone to fill in.

Hudler or Helm could have a great Stanley Cup final. Stuart and Lebda have picked it up when Rafalski and Lidstrom have been out. Helm and Leino look like NHL players. This team in the end is too fast, too experienced, and too ready to pay the price to win. They were tough enough to get past Anaheim.

If Chelios and Beech have to play, a lot things could get dicey for them, but I still believe in the end Detroit wins it. 

Detroit has too much for an improved Pittsburgh team to deal with. I believe the series will be better then last years mostly because of the experience  Pittsburgh gained and the improvements Malkin and Crosby have made to their game.

A couple more top end offensive talents for them to feed to, akin to a Kurri or an Anderson and this Pittsburgh team might start to resemble the 1984 Oilers a little bit more. This year though I'm going to have to say this will be a more competitive 

Red Wings in six.   

Prediction: Detroit in six

Record so far: 11-3  


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