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Saturday, May 24, 2008

Stanley Cup Finals Analysis

The day of reckoning is upon us. It's time for one team to become immortalized in silver and for the other team to go home wondering what might have been.

That thought alone is what kept me up most of the evening last night and why I'm sitting here typing through bloodshot eyes.

I would have gotten this up sooner, but I was trying to fully wrap my head around what the Penguins have done this season. I still haven't done it fully, but Game 1 starts in a few hours so I need to get this done.

I've read a lot of trash talking from Red Wings fans on various message boards about how this is going to be a four or five game series and that the Cup is all but won already. I chuckle at this and wonder how these people are allowed outside their homes legally. In most cases ignorance is not bliss.

Let's take a closer look at this series shall we?

The Pittsburgh Penguins have proven throughout the playoffs that they can win tight, low scoring, one goal games. They're also shown they can win in shootouts like Game 1 against the Rangers. (Sorry Gopher...keep razzing me about rooting for Detroit and this is what you get.)

When I look at Detroit, I see a team that looks to be virtually impenetrable, but since I saw Indiana Jones last night I have a keen eye and notice the two small chinks in the armor.

First, aside from Game 5 against Dallas in which they played scared and lost as a result, the other three losses have one thing in common. The opposition got out and skated and took the game to Detroit.

The Predators' wins in Game 3 and 4 on home ice are where the Penguins need to look for how to beat this team. Those two games were some of the most exciting hockey I'd seen all season. The pace was ridiculous and Detroit's older d-men couldn't keep up and were caught out of position leaving their even older (not counting Chelios here) goaltender to try and make insane saves.

Pittsburgh can easily take advantage of this and has a much better defensive system than the Preds did.

Flaw number two is simply this. Osgood has been good, he hasn't had to be great. Don't get me wrong, he's played well in these playoffs and may have swung the tide in one or two games, but for the most part he has not been tested. Was he tested in Games 5 and 6 against Nashville? No. Was he tested at all against Colorado? No. His first test was Game 4 and 5 against Dallas, both losses.

The Penguins will need to play how they did in Game 5 against Philly to take advantage of this. Game 5 was the first time I was actually not yelling at the screen for them to put the puck on net. You have to get pucks to the net at this time of year. Pretty plays don't work often as is and certainly the success rate drops even more in the playoffs. Guys are going to need to crash the net like crazy, get in Osgood's face, rattle him.

I'm not saying Pittsburgh is the perfect machine here at all, just pointing out what they need to do to win.

What sticks out in my mind that could hurt them is if Hal Gill and Rob Scuderi are paired up together. Compound that with the realistic possibility that they will at some point be on the ice against the Zetterberg/Datsyuk line and it could pose a very serious problem for Pittsburgh.

The stars are going to have to step up in this series as they have during this run, but the guy who's probably been the most underappreciated guy this postseason is Jordan Staal. This kid continues to impress me every day. It's not often that you see someone this young and know he's going to be an elite two-way player in a couple years.

Staal does everything and never takes a shift off.

Now I'm not going to make a prediction as to who is going to win this and here's why. If you go back and check out the full predictions I made before the playoffs started, I said the Pens would lose to the Sharks in the Finals. I was half right in that Pittsburgh would make it this far. However, every time I've picked against Detroit they've won and I don't want to jinx this thing because I'm already shaking and there's six hours to puck drop.

Here's what I will predict. This series is going seven games and should be a showcase of just how good hockey can be. These are two highly talented teams and should be a lot of fun to watch for those of you who aren't a fan of either side. For me, this is going to be torture and if it goes seven games check your local newspapers or online for the headline "24-year-old Pens Fans Dies From Heart Attack During Game 7."

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