2008 Stanley Cup Finals Preview
Previewing the NHL's 2008 Stanley Cup Finals series between Detroit & Pittsburgh
Detroit Red Wings vs. Pittsburgh Penguins
My 10-4 playoff prediction record is not bad at all (stupid Dallas won 2 more series than I expected). Maybe it is better that my Anaheim versus Montreal final did not happen, since the Detroit versus Pittsburgh final will be a doozy.
Finally after 7 months of hockey, Lord Stanley has 2 contestants left; the Detroit Red Wings and the Pittsburgh Penguins. The Presidents trophy winners in the Detroit Red Wings are playing in their 4th final since 1997 while this is Pittsburgh’s first appearance in 16 years. Without a doubt, this is the classic match between a very experienced Detroit team facing a young, talented Pittsburgh team that is having a hard time growing playoff beards.
Both teams have earned the right to represent their conferences and will put on great show for all viewers. Interestingly enough, the NHL schedule master failed to let these teams battle it out this season, but they did play twice last year with Detroit winning both meetings.
Detroit’s playoff record is 12-4 compared to the slightly better 12-2 record of the Penguins. The Red Wings had, what seemed to be, a hard time getting through Nashville in the first round but swept the injured Avalanche in round 2 impressively. After taking a 3-0 series lead against Dallas, the Stars won 2 in a row before Detroit finally finished off the Texas-based team in game #6, to become the Western Conference champions.
I think Pittsburgh has yet to be challenged. They murdered the Senators in 4 straight, then followed by beating New York and Philadelphia, both in 5 games. The Pens have played beyond their age, showing remarkable maturity while playing in their young bodies. Finishing 2nd in the Eastern Conference behind Montreal who lost to Philadelphia, the Penguins enter the finals after only 14 playoff games played.
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Though scoring a mouth full of goals got both teams here, their defense has been more crucial. Nearly all the forwards in this series are great two-way players who skate back and create many turnovers. Also, they bring the two best goals against averages in the postseason with the Pens 1.86 and the Wings 1.94. I have always believed in the philosophy of “offense wins the story but defense wins the glory,” and this is being proven here.
This series bring a ton of offensive talent including the current top 5 playoff point scorers in Henrik Zetterberg (21), Sidney Crosby (21), Marian Hossa (19), Evgeni Malkin (19), and Pavel Datsyuk (19). The Wings Johan Franzen leads all players with his 12 goals in only 11 games since he has been out for the past 5 matches with injury.
Pittsburgh’s power play is scoring at will with a ridiculous rate of 24% (16 for 65) while Detroit’s is not far behind at 21% (16 for 76). Very important for these clubs to not get lazy and take dumb penalties, instead attract them by keeping their skates moving at all times. On the other hand, Pittsburgh has managed one goal on the penalty kill with the Wings netting 5 shorthanded goals, making the Detroit PK a series threat.
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Three key factors in the Stanley Cup Finals:
1) Secondary Scoring
Zetterberg and Datsyuk will provide plenty of points for Detroit, as will Crosby and Malkin should do the same for Pittsburgh. The series changing goals will have to come from every other player not with those names on the back of their jerseys, especially on the defense.
The Penguins have Hossa as a great #3 scorer while Franzen, if healthy, also has a touch for the back of the net. Jordan Staal, Ryan Malone and Petr Sykora must step their games up to take Pittsburgh to the glory land. For Detroit, Jiri Hudler, Mikael Sameulsson need to have top notch performances, with Tomas Holmstrom continuing his goaltender annoyance.
Looking at the defensive scoring, the Red Wings are a much better team. Detroit’s top 3 blue liners have totaled 32 points, to Pittsburgh’s top 3 only tallying 20.
Advantage definitely goes to Detroit.
2) Which team is faster - Detroit or Pittsburgh?
These teams have intense work ethic and rarely slow down. Both have won their previous series' because they win the race to every puck. Pittsburgh’s defense is much slower than their counterparts and Detroit’s forwards will exploit this. The speed must be used on both ends of the 200 foot rink; limiting 3 on 2 breaks and really focusing on takeaways will be important to win the Cup. If you lose the puck, get back quick.
As a team (including the defense), the faster team in this series are the Wings.
3) Chris Osgood vs. Marc-Andre Fleury
Of course the goalie match-up is a critical part of any game, this is no different. Osgood has been incredible since taking over for Dominik Hasek in the first round, only losing twice. His 1.60 GAA and .931 save percentage will be called upon against the powerful Pens.
Fleury has earned 3 shutouts, but I feel he has yet to be truly tested. Not taking anything away from him at all, it is just that he has not faced a team like Detroit in these playoffs. The odds are that he will face at least 30 shot per game which means that it will be extremely hard for him to maintain his 1.70 GAA.
I really want to take Fleury in this factor, but Pittsburgh’s defense is biting off more than they can chew. Osgood’s 35-year old body is filled with enough experience to give him the edge.
The Penguins are really fun to watch and have not lost on their home ice during this post season. My stomach tells me that the 24 Stanley Cup rings in the Detroit locker room will get them at least 2 wins in Steel Town (games #4 & #6). The 4 Stanley Cups rings on Pittsburgh’s bench will not get them through this series.
All the games will be close, but the Red Wings will win the 11th Stanley Cup in franchise history.
Detroit wins series 4-2.
By Kevin Chaves
ProHockey-fans.com Staff Writer
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