Stanley Cup Final Preview: Time For Revenge?

2009-stanley-cup-finals-red-wings-penguinsTotal Pro Sports – It all began on Wednesday, April 15, 2009.  Now, three rounds, fourteen series, 43 days, 70 games, and a whole lot of bruises later we are left with the final two teams in the NHL playoffs, one of the most demanding post-seasons in professional sports.  In the 2009 edition of the Stanley Cup Finals, a rematch between the Detroit Red Wings and the Pittsburgh Penguins has hockey fans buzzing.

There is no shortage of story lines this time around.  Marian Hossa left the Penguins after last season’s disappointing finale to join the opposition Red Wings for a lot less money.  Why?  Because he thought it was a better chance to win for him to win the Cup.  After this series, he will either be the one saying “I told you so,” or be left to ponder what could have been.

This is also the first time two teams have met in the finals in back-to-back seasons since the New York Islanders and the Edmonton Oilers did it in 1984.  Many have compared those teams to the two we are left with this time around.  The Red Wings would be your modern day Islanders, with depth, experience and a lot of fire power in their line up.  As for the Penguins, they resemble the Oilers of the ’80s.  Just like when young stars Wayne Gretzky and Mark Messier were developing and lost in the finals their first year there before taking home the Cup the following year, many believe that Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin are traveling along a similar road.

Speaking of Crosby and Malkin, they will once agin be in the spotlight, and unlike last year, they will want to avoid being blanketed by the skilled two-way players of the Red Wings.  Tied at the top in NHL playoff scoring, the two young faces of the NHL will look to take the next step in cementing their legacies early in their career.  They will not want to let all of these chances pass them by.  It is any one’s guess how many more they will get.

The schedule and injury issues have also surfaced during the couple of off days prior to Game One.  With the likes of Niklas Lidstrom, Pavel Datsyuk, Jonathan Ericsson, and Kris Draper all suffering from injuries (and Rafalski and Osgood raising some questions as well), the back-to-back games scheduled for Games 1 and 2 on Saturday and Sunday may pose a problem.  What they will benefit from is the extra day of rest prior to game 6 and 7, should the series go that far.  How this affects the series remains to be seen, but you can be sure that if one team looks to be suffering, the NHL’s decision making will come into question.

So that takes us to the series itself.  It is a difficult one to predict, but we at TPS are going to take a shot at it.  Here is a breakdown of why each team will win, and lose.  After looking over such factors, we offer a final prediction.

The Eastern Conference Champion Pittsburgh Penguins

Why they will win: With the likes of Crosby, Malkin and Jordan Staal down the middle, they have three lines that they can roll out there without giving up much to the opposition.  They have been firing on all cylinders and look to have gotten stronger as they go deeper into the playoffs.  Their power-play will be especially important as it will need to connect against a Red Wings penalty-kill that has been well below par in the playoffs (14th out of all 16 playoff teams at 73.7%).  The Pens defense has also been effective throughout the playoffs, facing stars like Alex Ovechkin and Eric Staal and proving to be up for the test each time.  Much of that should also be attributed to the strong play of Marc-Andre Fleury, and if he continues to make the big save, he may be the X-Factor his team needs to exact their revenge on the Wings.

Why They Will Lose: Although the Pens can throw three great lines out there, the are not as deep as the Red Wings.  The have the luxury of playing Crosby and Malkin on the fourth line as well, but such a strategy may eventually wear their stars down against a tough checking Wing team.  Many would like to point to the back-to-back games as a disadvantage for the Red Wings, but it may actually be more of a problem for the Pens.  They can not match the depth of their opponents upfront or on the blue-line, and as a result, by the third period of game 2 it may be them who runs out of gas.

The Western Conference Champion Detroit Red Wings

Why They Will Win: They have proven that they can win without the likes of Lidstrom, Datsyuk and Draper.  They have even been forced to play without Brian Rafalski for some time.  They simply continue to win.  Their fourth line players step into third and second line roles, and their third line players have the ability to fill in on the top line.  Some people even question whether there is a first, second and third line on this team.  Their depth has consistently proven to be effective and when players like Dan Cleary, Darren Helm and Valtteri Filppula are producing, they become almost impossible to stop.  Their depth up front is equally matched along their blue line with the likes of Lidstrom, Rafalski, Brad Stuart, Niklas Kronwall and Jonathan Ericsson.  Baring more injuries, they should always be able to neutralize both Crosby and Malkin with a dependable unit on the back end.

Why They Will Lose: One thing that many are pointing to, and it may in fact prove to be the difference, is the injury bug that has hit the Detroit Red Wing team this post-season.  With a short layoff and back-to-back games right away, the Wings will need to play like they are at least somewhat healthy, otherwise they may find themselves to be down early.  There is also question about their penalty-kill, and that is not a good thing prior to taking on the likes of Malkin and Crosby.  They will need to tighten up, and Osgood will have to that much sharper if the Red Wings want to avoid having special teams be the difference.

Outcome: I think Crosby will be his usual self, and Malkin we come around when needed.  I would also look for a big series out of Marian Hossa as he will want to make his decision the right one.  I expect this to be a close series.  Both teams have seemingly improved from last year, but I expect this to be an even tighter matchup than it was in ’08.  With last years series goin six, I would say that in ’09, we are looking at a seven game set.

Give me the Penguins in overtime of game 7!

TSP will be in attendance for game one, ane we hope to see some crazy things in the stands.  Maybe a flying kick, hotdog shooters, or someone flashing their breasts.  We will also be present should a game seven occur, so my prediction may not come as a surprise because of that.  Enjoy your Stanley Cup weekend and we look forward to bringing you more news from around the sporting world next week.

Tags: 2009 Stanley Cup Finals, Alex Ovechkin, detroit red wings, Eric Staal, Evgeni Malkin, Jonathan Ericsson, Jordan Staal, Marc-Andre Fleury, Marian Hossa, Mark Messier, New York Islanders, NHL, Niklas Lidstrom, Pavel Datsyuk, pittsburgh penguins, playoffs, sidney crosby, Wayne Gretzky,