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?
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?
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 Globesports.com 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.