This year's Stanley Cup Final matchup is not only what the NHL dreamed of all season, but it's also what most fans wished for as well.
These are the two best teams in the league and, after watching 10 minutes of game 1, it's clear that this will be a better final than any in recent memory.
The question I've been struggling with all week is this one: How do these two team stack up against each other? Let's do this using hands:
On the one hand, Detroit, IMHO, has a slight edge in primary scoring (Datsyuk/Zetterberg vs Crosby/Malkin).
On the other hand, Pittsburgh has the edge in secondary scoring (Hossa/Sykora vs all other Detroit forwards).
On the one hand, Detroit has the edge on D.
On the other hand, Pittsburgh has a slight edge in nets.
On the one hand, Detroit has the edge behind the bench.
On the other hand, Pittsburgh has the edge on the PP.
On the one hand, Detroit has home ice advantage.
On the other hand...
I'm all out of hands.
Detroit in 7
Given the fact that most of the people who post here are Habs fans or Flames fans, there was a lull in the action since those teams were eliminated.
Enough sulking! (I'll save that for a post on the Habs' season later on.) It's time to look at what the final four teams have to offer and to predict who will make it to the final.
Pittsburgh v. Philadelphia
Even if I still don't fully understand how the Flyers made mincemeat out of the Habs, I have to give them credit. They have a team filled with good, young, talent (Richards, Carter, Umberger, Biron) who are really coming into their own. Biron has been a puck magnet and Umberger is, along with Johan Franzen, a front runner for the John Druce award for most unlikely playoff hero. We can't forget Daniel Brière either. He was great in Round 1.
They key to their success has been their apportunistic goal scoring. In most of the games against Montreal, they were out-shot and out-chanced, sometimes badly. Yet, they kept finding the back of the net whenever they had the chance.
The Penguins, for their part, bring an explosive offense to the table. With all due respect to my beloved Habs, the Flyers D-men and Biron have yet to see an offense like this one. As the Senators and Rangers have learned, even if you can hold on long enough to keep Malkin and Sykora at bay, you then have to face Hossa and Crosby. Ryan Malone has also been great so far.
With all of the firepower that the Penguins have, I still believe that the key to their playoff success has been the stellar play of Marc-André Fleury. It seems we've been waiting a long time for Fleury to mature, but he seems to finally be the goalie that he was touted to be when he was drafted.
Unless Fleury has a total breakdown (which I doubt), I think Pittsburgh should take this series. They won't, however, come out of it without paying a significant physical price.
Penguins in 6
Detroit v. Dallas
When the Stars got Brad Richards at the traded deadline, I was convinced that they were going to be a team to reckon with in the West. Then, they had a horrible end to the season. As a result, I picked them to lose in both the first and the second round of the playoffs.
Dallas has shown great grit and their top line has been one of the best, if not THE best, in this year's playoffs. Even if it pains me to say it, Mike Ribeiro has been great. I still can't stand him. Look at him! He's got a face only a mother could love. And I don't mean his mother, but rather Mother Teresa.
Over in Detroit, it seems to be business as usual. This is a team that, when they're on fire, play such a dominant game that it's hard for other teams to even get possession of the puck. In the past few years, they seem to have had great seasons but poor playoff performance. It seems that many of their lesser-known players have benefited from a few years experience and are now better payoff performers.
The only question mark for Detroit is, as always, goaltending. Osgood has been good, but not nearly as good as his counterpart, Turco. Detroit has also faced weaker teams that had goaltending issues of their own. They have proven however, that their puck possession has been a very effective way of keeping puck away from their net.
All that being said, I'm going to bet against Dallas for the third straight time. Here's to hopeing that, much like a stopped clock, I'll eventually be right.
Red Wings in 7
The Montreal press can be so fucking racist/protectionist:
Je connais assez bien les Russes pour savoir que ce sont des êtres susceptibles, fiers et qu'ils n'aiment pas, mais pas du tout, faire rire d'eux. Ils veulent bien forcer les Russes; ils veulent bien en donner plus, les Russes, mais quand ils voient à côté d'eux des coéquipiers qui, par égoïsme, par paresse ou par simple manque de discipline, se plaisent à mettre l'équipe dans le pétrin, ils n'hésitent plus, les Russes, ils débarquent du train.
Shorter Michel Blanchard: If Lapierre stinks, it's actually Kovalev's fault.
So, if you were not going to re-sign Michael Ryder, but wanted his veteran-y presence down the stretch, I'd say go for it (though you could make the same argument for Huet - but I won't). Why not - they guy has good hands and has evolved into a decent, if low-profile, two-way winger. As inelegant as it looks, Ryder's ability to propel himself and the puck along the right wing boards despite a lack of space between said boards and a defenceman could be useful to a team that cannot seem to enter the offensive zone with a man advantage. So, yeah, hang on to him at the deadline. Nice work!
Now to bench the guy for (a) Matthieu "I'm Old!" Dandenaut, (b) Guillaume "the Tender Marshmallow" Latendresse, (c) Maxime "Mohawkdouche" Lapierre and (d) Sergei
I May Only Pass to my Brother" Kostitsyn" in a series marked by a dearth of scoring is a waste of time, money and talent. I guess there are (apocraphyl) issues about Ryder's work ethic and his brains, but the man has a knack for clutch scoring almost despite himself. He is the anti-Higgins, and man have we needed him.
So before you hand over the Jack Adams trophy from Don Cherry's cold, dead hands to Guy "I Don't Coach I Wear Ties" Carbonneau, consider the Newfie in the press gallery.