Thursday, May 28, 2009

Deja Vu All Over Again?

1) With deference to that line's purported author, Yogi Berra, that's exactly what we have with this year's NHL Finals. Its a repeat of last year's version when the Penguins and Red Wings faced off to determine who will skate away with the Silver chalice.

2) With last night's Game 5 victory by the Wings we have the anticipated rematch. By the way, did anyone ever believe last night's outcome was in doubt? Even without two of the best players the Wings still looked like a machine, rolling over a very good Hawk squad. By the way, look out for that team in up coming years. They are very young, and poised to be a significant power for some time. We would not be shocked to see them play their share of Finals in the next decade.

3) We have to also admit that we were pulling for the Wings last evening. No, not because we are fans of them (or any team for that matter), but IF the series had gone beyond last night we would have been forced to endure a week or so between series as the NHL/Bettman try to contort the schedule to fit NBC's whims. With last night's resolution, we are spared a Super Bowl type layoff, and the games will resume with a manageable 2 day layoff.

4) With our 2 accurate predictions in the last round it brought the FAUXRUMORS playoff series predictions to a very solid 10-4. As for the series it self. No Cinderellas in this year's Finals. Looking back these ARE the Two best teams! We will go through several story lines and then come up with our Cup pick.

  • The Stars: Crosby/Malkin-vs- Datsyuk/Zetterberg. All four are amazing players in their own right. All have greatly contributed to their teams' regular season AND playoff success. The health of Datsyuk is a question going in, but thus far the Wings have won 3 series without too much offensive contribution from their Hart nonimee. Meanwhile, the Pens dynamic duo of Malkin and Crosby are scarily so young and amazingly talented that we are reminded of a similar duo of centers out of Edmonton in the early-mid 80's (Gretzky and Messier). The Wing forwards may have a slight edge in experience/defensive prowess, while their Pitt counterparts are more explosive. Should prove to be an exciting matchup of some of the NHL's best talent up front. Last year we had it even. This time around Advantage: Penguins

  • PP QB's: Nicklas Lidstrom-vs- Sergei Gonchar. Two of the more gifted offensive defensemen in the game. Both are long time NHL vets, with Gonchar playing in his 16th season. 'Gonch' has again elevated his game these playoffs. Not only is he contributing as the team's PP QB, but his defense has been nothing short of excellent. He has previously been overlooked for Norris consideration due to his defensive weakness, but not so anymore. However an injury late in the last round has Sergei playing at less than 100%. Lidstrom is in his 19th season, ALL with the Wings. Might not win the Norris, and but is still one of the best, but like his team mate Datsyuk, and like Gonchar, his health is a question. He is the epitome of what a 2-way defensemen should strive to be; The shut down/reliable defender in his own zone and the team's PP specialist at the other. No one combines/excels at both better. Last year the edge was easily Detroit. With Lidstrom not nearly close to 100% its Advantage: Even

  • The Goalies: Chris Osgood-vs- M.A. Fleury. Last year the story line was 2 disrespected goalies. This year both have earned respect. Certainly as we have written recently, revisiting-osgood-to-hall 'Ozzie' deserves respect if not lauds for his accomplishments. Since replacing Hasek last year he has been a steadying influence and merely done what was asked, win. On his side M-A has played steady goal to help the Pens get back here. As always goaltending will be a factor, but it remains to be seen who will step up their game another notch. Last time around we gave the edge here to Pittsburgh as MA was playing at the top of his game. This time around though we are more inclined to say that this aspect is a toss up. Advantage: Even
  • Secondary scoring: Both of these teams are obviously loaded offensively. Last time around we actually gave Pitt the edge here. However this time around we feel the Wings(largely without Datsyuk's offensive contribution) have won 3 series and not had trouble scoring in any of them. The Penguins offensive depth is as evident and down right impressive. The addition of Guerin and the reemergence of Satan help take the load off the top 2, but the Pens loss coupled with the Wings addition of Hossa has pushed us to say that neither team has the edge here. Advantage: Even

  • Team defense: Here is where Detroit had a stark edge last year. For one, the Red Wings are one of the best puck-possession teams in the NHL. No slap at Pittsburgh's blueliners; They have performed admirably, however they have no answer to the 'other Niklas' back on defense. Kronwall. He has been a difference at both ends of the ice. As important he also has the potential to deliver devastating hits (ask Havlat) and punish opposing forwards in the Detroit zone. We feel he may the key to containing the speedy Penguin forwards by giving them something to fear as they cross the Detroit blueline. That said the Pen defense has impressed us throughout the post season with players like Letang and Scuderi upping their games. Still despite the improved Pens rear guards we still feel the Wings have the better set of defenders, as well as having a group of forwards who are always cognisant of their end. Edge: Detroit

  • The Intangibles: Experience-vs- Youth was the refrain last time. However these Pens are not so wet behind the ears anymore. It can't be forgotten though that despite their second consecutive trip here it is the Wings who are the premiere Spring team. This spring marks the sixth time the Wings have advanced to the Stanley Cup Finals in past 14 years, and have won the Cup four times in their last five appearances. Pavel Datsyuk, Nicklas Lidstrom, Chris Chelios, Kris Draper, Chris Osgood, Tomas Holmstrom and Kirk Maltby played on previous Detroit Cup teams, while Rafalski won two Cups with New Jersey and one with Detroit.(Not to mention all the other players who carried the Cup around last year) On the other side, only Bill Guerin (NJ) and Petr Sykora (NJ), have played on a Cup champion. Edge: Detroit

5) What this series will come down to is what it did last year; will the Redwings be able to play their puck possession game or will Pittsburgh be able to play their up tempo, more wide open style? Regardless of their edge up front, we believe that defense wins championships. As such we see the Redwings as having enough offense and a strong enough defense to stifle the Penguin attack. Certainly NOT entirely, but at least contain it enough to eke out 4 victories. Many more Wings have been here and know what it takes to win. The Penguins are still too young and shown immature streaks/lack of killer instinct at times this post season. This will NOT be a sweep by either team. However, we believe the Penguins time to win will have to be put off at least another season. Detroit in 7

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