Penguins-Red Wings Game Seven Decides More Than Just the Cup

xx yySenior Writer IJune 12, 2009

PITTSBURGH - JUNE 09:  Sidney Crosby #87 of the Pittsburgh Penguins looks on against the Detroit Red Wings during Game Six of the NHL Stanley Cup Finals at the Mellon Arena on June 9, 2009 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)

Tonight, hockey fans are in store for something special, something they haven't seen since 2005-2006—a Game Seven in a Stanley Cup final. It's the game where no matter what happens in the end, the Stanley Cup will be there, ready and waiting for the victor.

Whether it's a blowout, a shutout, or the game goes to overtime, the Cup stays up awaiting the decision.

Whether the winner is scored at 9:15 at night or 4:34 the next morning, the champion will be crowned for another season.

Side note: Looking for a useless fact of the day? Nine of the past 12 Cup-winning goals have been scored in the second period of the deciding Cup final game, while two of the ones that weren't in the second period were scored in overtime—but I digress.

Henrik Zetterberg and the Detroit Red Wings have set their sights on a fifth ring in 12 years, which would cement Detroit as one of the most powerful teams in recent memory and embolden the statement that Ken Holland and company have made around the league—smart players mixed with skill, not skill alone, win championships.

Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, and the Pittsburgh Penguins are looking to start their own dynasty. The comparisons keep coming between today's Penguins and the Wayne Gretzky/Jari Kurri/Mark Messier Oilers of the 1980s, when they knocked off the once-powerful New York Islanders to claim their first championship.

Despite those that want to cling to history and create lofty expectations for these Penguins, however, the times are different, and so are the situations.

Mike Bossy and the New York Islanders taught the Oilers a humbling lesson in 1982-1983, sweeping them out of the playoffs before May 20 (that date seems shocking now, but remember there were fewer teams then). The closest Glen Sather was able to coach his Oilers to a victory was in a 4-2 Game Four, the final meeting of the sweep.

The next year, the tables were fully reversed, as the Oilers handed the Islanders their walking papers in five games.

The first game was a hard-fought 1-0 Oiler win, and Game Two soon turned into an embarrassment, as the Islanders fought back 6-1. From there on out, it was an offensive outburst, as the Oilers scored 19 goals in the final three games of the series, propelling them to five Cups in the next seven years.

Strangely enough, the "dynasty" that followed them was the Pittsburgh Penguins and their back-to-back Cups.

Last year, though (when the Pittsburgh Penguins were expected to take the reins from the old and grizzled Wings), they had trouble early on, getting shut out in Games One and Two.

The Pens began to find their stride a bit after that, never losing any game by more than one goal (despite having trouble dealing with the smothering of the Red Wings) and even sending Game Five to triple overtime.

Different eras and different styles make for closer games, I suppose.

But now, many think that the Penguins are a "dark horse" in Game Seven. They were able to win Game Six at home, something they weren't able to do against Detroit last year, and something the Edmonton Oilers only did in a Cup final once (the Oilers dropped Game One of the 1985 Finals to the Philadelphia Flyers to trail 1-0 in the series before winning four straight; the worst any of the other series got were tied).

Different times and different players make for different teams.

You see, in all of this, people forgot that the Penguins are their own team. Even though the conclusions have been drawn, this team wasn't built in the image of the '80s Oilers dynasty; it was built simply in the image of any team that's ever won.

Comparisons are fun, but they only last for so long—especially if the Penguins lose tonight.

The Detroit Red Wings, meanwhile, are free of those comparisons. In fact, no one has quite done what they've done since the Montreal Canadiens, following the league expansion to 12 teams, as they've won four championships but spaced them out.

Side note: That's not to say that the Oilers, Islanders, and Flyers dynasties are being overlooked, but the Canadiens won the cup in 1968, '69, '71, '73, and '74 before winning four straight starting in 1976, spreading out their championships like no other.

The closest rival to that would be the New Jersey Devils with championships in 1995, 2000, and 2003.

They've stayed quiet as an organization, and their players have done likewise, and although many refuse to admit it, the Red Wings have forged a different kind of dynasty that doesn't put the pressure on continual winning.

If the Red Wings fail one year in the playoffs, the plan is tweaked to see what was wrong instead of everything getting scrapped. When they found something they liked (Pavel Datsyuk, Nick Lidstrom, Zetterberg), they held on to it. Simple as that.

Players around the league recognize it as well, as Dallas Drake chose to close out his career in Detroit last year, convinced they were his best shot at the Cup.

History proved Drake, and the Wings, right.

This year, Marian Hossa plays for the other side (if you haven't been privy to the countless tales about it). After losing with the Pens last year, he watched Detroit hoist the Cup, and the most sought-after free agent of July '08 was sold on a contract below market value for a shot at winning.

Who knows? Maybe it's something in the water in Michigan.

Whether you're comparing the two teams to past or present NHL greats or not, or looking for storylines in all of the strangest places, don't forget to prepare for a Game Seven that's shaped up to be a little different than the ones in recent memory.

Maybe the Red Wings reach their historical potential and etch their names in the history books once more, and maybe Hossa is vindicated.

Or maybe it's the arrival of the Pittsburgh Penguins, one of the greatest "potential" dynasties ever.

Either way, potential is nice—but it doesn't mean a thing until you reach it.

Bryan Thiel is a Senior Writer and an NHL Community Leader for Bleacher Report. If you want to get in contact with Bryan, you can do so through his profile, or you can email him at bryanthiel74@hotmail.com. You can also check out all of his previous work in his archives.


The latest in the sports world, emailed daily.