Friday, May 23, 2008

2008 Stanley Cup final
Why the Wings will win

Mirtle blog is 9-5 over the first three rounds, one ahead of the monkey, and on pace for a respectable showing overall. That's all you can hope for, really.

And finding someone to pick your fleas.

Me, I picked the Red Wings to win the Cup in early April, and I'm sticking by that, despite all the evidence the Penguins have arrived as contenders. What follows is my attempt to say something that hasn't already been written about this series (given the four-day break and all).

(1) Detroit v. (2) Pittsburgh

Series key: Is this Crosby's coming out party?

Youth versus experience. Size versus finesse. Offensive flair versus defensive acumen.

Those are the storylines you're going to be sold (force fed?) leading up to tomorrow night's big game, but that's not what I'm going to give you here. No, my reasoning for the prediction is much, much simpler than that, and it's a theme I've hit on time and time again this season.

If I had to make a call, right now, as to who would be the most influential player in this series, it wouldn't be wunderkind Sidney Crosby, or Evgeni Malkin or Marian Hossa. Nor would it be the goalies, Marc-Andre Fleury or Chris Osgood, or snipers on the Detroit side like Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk.

And for all their effectiveness, it also wouldn't been key cogs like Sergei Gonchar, Ryan Malone, Tomas Holmstrom and Johan Franzen.

It's Nick Lidstrom.

If ever there was a boring superstar, it's him. If ever there was a series branded as exciting and packed with edge-of-your-seat action as this one, he's the man to make it predictable and refined. At 38 years old, Lidstrom remains the best player in the game, and in this series, my money's on the fact he'll dominate the 30 minutes of ice time he gets a night.

Let me run a few funny numbers here. After 16 games in the postseason, Lidstrom leads the NHL in shorthanded minutes played, a total of about 59 minutes, or 3:40 per game. That's the equivalent of about 30 full-length minor penalties, and over that period, Detroit has allowed just four goals against at 4-on-5.

Shorthanded, with Lidstrom on the ice, they've scored five. Even down a man, they're up a goal, at this point, averaging 5.42 goals scored per 60 minutes at 5-on-4 with their captain playing.

A small sample size, certainly, but a telling one, too.

The Penguins leader in a similar category, Marian Hossa, is at 4.38 goals scored per 60 minutes. (But that's at 5-on-5.)

They're stats that don't make sense, but they're littered throughout the Red Wings' lineup. Players who quietly dominate, who win series in ways television can't quite convey, and who are, in a lot of ways, just now getting recognition across the league.

Detroit scores more goals per minute shorthanded with Lidstrom playing than any Pittsburgh player has managed at even strength in these playoffs?

Apparently so.

Gonchar's terrific, and he was one of the top defencemen in the league this season, but I put Lidstrom in a different league, and that alone will make a huge difference in the series.

That, combined with a few timely goals from Zetterberg (the Conn Smythe favourite at this point), will be enough to win the series. But it'll be a long one.

The one caveat I'll add, however, is regarding Crosby. As much as some fans rail against The Golden One's omnipresence (not his fault, you should know), he is that good. Crosby wants this Cup as much as anyone, and I don't doubt Pittsburgh just might be so young they don't realize, as Bill Houlihan said, they're supposed to lose this one.

It's the youngest captain ever in the finals up against a man who could be the first European to wear the 'C' while winning it all. Flash forward a few games and that'll be your storyline, guaranteed.

If Crosby can be otherworldly and outdo Lidstrom, beating him in ways we haven't seen yet this season, Pittsburgh can win. The Kid is still getting better, and could take a leap in his first finals by beating one of the best defencemen of all-time.

That's what his team needs.

Red Wings in 6

If I'm wrong and the Penguins win, I'll post whatever Photoshop The Pensblog pleases at the top of the site. If I'm right, hopefully they'll offer some sincere kudos and sell a few more T-shirts. (I ordered one last week in a moment of weakness, btw.)

Completely separate from predictions, and what I think will happen, the Penguins are a terrific story already. If a 20-year-old captain can lead this club over the Red Wings at this point in his career, that'll be a tale for the ages.

It'd be something to see.

N.B. Eric Duhatschek is taking questions on the finals over at from Detroit, starting at noon today. And FanHouse will have live blogs of all finals games, with at least one hosted by yours truly.

I'm also planning, at some point, to be in Pittsburgh for this series. It's really only a five-hour drive and my car's good on gas.


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At 10:15 a.m., May 23, 2008, Blogger Adam C said...

Wow. The equivalent of an entire game playing four against five, and Lidstrom wins, 5-4.

At 10:25 a.m., May 23, 2008, Anonymous Anonymous said...

And that is why Ken Holland has said that 10 minutes after Lidstrom's retirement press conference, he'll hold his own.

(Possibly joking, but possibly not.)

He really is that awesome.

At 10:32 a.m., May 23, 2008, Blogger Adam C said...

Here's one for you, James: in the history of the NHL, only two teams have won the Cup that didn't finish in the top six during the regular season: the seventh-place Penguins in 1991 (who won their division and had Lemieux at the absolute peak of his career), and the ninth-place Devils in the lockout shortened season.

By that yardstick, neither finalist this year has yet faced a single 'serious' contender. Has there ever been a final contested by two such untested teams?

At 10:36 a.m., May 23, 2008, Blogger FAUX RUMORS said...

1) As the cliche goes: The best defense beats the best offense! Detroit's puck contro, game vs the pens run and gun. Should be interesting to watch.
2) We concur with your prediction that the Wings will win, but not easily.

At 11:49 a.m., May 23, 2008, Blogger Hooks Orpik said...

That's a well reasoned and interesting prediction. I, of course, hope it's wrong.

We'll see. Lidstrom, no doubt, is the best defenseman in the league but can he stop Crosby AND Hossa? And if he does are the Red Wings going to match Kronwall/Stuart on Malkin and company?

The matchup problems are going to be there. We'll see if the Pens can generate anything on a great puck posession team.

At 12:04 p.m., May 23, 2008, Anonymous aberesf said...

Hey James

Had a question about CBA transfers over the last couple days (can you tell my team is out of the playoffs?) I was reading the draft issue of the hockey news and a scout was quoted as saying, re: Nikita Filatov "if he doesn't sign, he'll remain a defected player in perpetuity instead of going back in to the draft in two years." Does that mean that all players currently playing in Russia remain protected by their teams? Do they have to remain on the teams protected list (50 players)? Does this apply to players drafted on since the transfer agreement fell apart or those from earlier as well? Or is the hockey news not particularly well informed about the CBA? My Montreal Canadiens have Yemelin over there and may lose him if he is unsigned before this years draft, but now I'm not so sure


At 12:05 p.m., May 23, 2008, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Even Scotty Bowman said that Gretzky can win scoring titles but not championships. Gretzky proved him wrong.

Detroit might be favorite and most likely will win but there's this Sidney Crosby guy who can do things that could change this series.

It's almost funny how fast media started hyping Malkin being better than Crosby. Well, Crosby ended with ppg average which in full season would have given him 111 pts.

Watching Crosby against Philadelphia I was thinking that this kid is going to take Pens all the way.

Might not happen but I wouldn't be surprised.

At 12:17 p.m., May 23, 2008, Anonymous PPP said...

2008 Stanley Cup Final
Why the Penguins will win
The USS Hal Gill.

At 12:21 p.m., May 23, 2008, Anonymous Anonymous said...

As a pens fan, I am of course hoping you're wrong. But as a hockey fan, this looks to be like it could be the best final we've seen in a long, long time.

At 12:37 p.m., May 23, 2008, Blogger Mr.Poindexter said...

That should read "both are dominant players".

At 4:09 p.m., May 23, 2008, Blogger therealdeal said...

That's an astounding statistic regarding Lidstrom. It only hit me today that he's the favorite to be the first Euro born captain to win the cup, possibly beating out his Swedish brethren Daniel Alfredsson.

I too think Detroit takes this one, but I don't think they've faced a team yet with the high end scoring that the Penguins have, or the depth of scoring the Penguins have.

I just hope it'll be a good one.

At 4:48 p.m., May 23, 2008, Blogger Dennis Prouse said...

Look at Chris Osgood, getting absolutely no love whatsoever in terms of Conn Smythe consideration. This guy has to be the most underrated goalie in league history. His team was in deep trouble until he came in to rescue their sorry butts - if the Wings win the Cup, denying the most offensively gifted team in hockey in the process, how do you NOT give the guy the Conn Smythe?

At 4:58 p.m., May 23, 2008, Anonymous PPP said...

if the Wings win the Cup, denying the most offensively gifted team in hockey in the process, how do you NOT give the guy the Conn Smythe?

Ummm probably because all he's done is not let in the easy goals that Hasek was letting in with regularity. If he wins the Conn Smythe you might as well stop giving out the trophy because it will have become meaningless.

At 11:39 p.m., May 23, 2008, Anonymous Claire said...

I attended Game 4 in Dallas, and yes, the Stars won, but watching the Wings' offense move the puck up into the Star's zone was a thing of beauty. Detroit's players have this unreal zen-like feel for the ice and the way they cycle the puck and go in for the kill is unreal. The series may go to six games, but Detroit will get to spend the summer with Stanley.

At 4:42 a.m., May 24, 2008, Blogger Old said...

Dr. Mirtle,

I am a Pens fan and hope you are wrong. This post reminds me why I turn to you for hockey analysis, and news. Great post!

No doubt Lidstrom is great and I can see him stymieing Crosby, or Malkin, but I am glad the Pens have had all but a few players score goals during these play-offs. Can Detroit stop them all? Can the Pens stop all of Detroits great players? When the Pens get a lead I have seen them out trap New Jersey, and I have seen them out forecheck any number of teams, and cycle down against some good teams.

Should be a good series for hockey fans.


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