- 05/29/2009, 01:49PM ET
Al Muir said 05/29, 01:49 PM
Here's the thing about being so good for so long: people start to take you for granted. How else to explain the near universal belief that Pittsburgh will topple the dynastic Red Wings from their Stanley Cup throne?
Not to belittle the Pens, a motivated team pulsing with confidence, but there's a big leap between knocking off the sixth-place 'Canes and knocking out the reigning champs. And don't try playing the experience card. Losing in the 2008 final may have provided a valuable lesson, but it didn't reveal a hidden cheat code to the Cup. Detroit, on the other hand, is brimming with finals know-how. Adversity? Attrition? No problem. While earning four Cups in 11 years, the core of this team has cleared every hurdle on the path to victory, including injuries.
It's true the Wings are a battered group right now, but don't assume that leaves their underbelly exposed. After all, this group managed to subdue a gifted Chicago team absent the services of Pavel Datsyuk, Nick Lidstrom, Kris Draper and others. Now that Lidstrom is expected back Saturday (with Datsyuk a game-time decision), they're approaching full strength. That leaves only one prudent course of action: Bet on red.
Darren Eliot said 05/29, 03:52 PM
The lessons learned by the Penguins last season weren''t in the losing. The takeaway is in the knowing what it takes once you are in that forum. Suffice it to say this edition of the Pens won't wait until Game 3 to hit the scoresheet, like last year. Even with their early wonderment, they still pushed Detroit to six games.
This time around, the deeper-down-the-middle Penguins -- even if Pavel Datsyuk and Kris Draper are healthy -- have Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby performing at peak power; not so a year ago. That's meant that whether ahead, behind or even, the Pens have found a way to win, going 4-2 when trailing after 20 minutes. The defending champs have been perfect when in front, but haven't yet won when behind after the first or second periods. Throw in their inability to defend while down a man and it's easy to see the Wings have real vulnerabilities. I mean, 15 goals-against while shorthanded just 57 times. This against the varied, dynamic Penguins power play?
And what of motivation? You can't dismiss its importance. Okay, so maybe you can learn something from losing: you don't want to be in that situation again. This year, the Penguins won't be.
Al Muir said 05/30, 11:04 AM
The Wings haven't won when trailing? Not sure that's a particularly damning trait considering they've lost just four games in three rounds. What that tells me is three times out of four they grab a lead and don't let go. That tenacity will be a problem for the Pens, a side that???s been guilty of more than a few sleepy starts this spring.
The Wings so often get that early jump thanks to a well-rehearsed brand of team defense. It's a commitment that starts with their forwards and ends with the least appreciated stopper of his era, Chris Osgood.
I'll admit to being among those who wondered if he'd lost it during the regular season. but Osgood has shown he's money when the weather warms up. If backstopping the Wings to a pair of Cups (1998, 2008) doesn???t convince you of his ability to dominate this series, consider this: since replacing Dominik Hasek in the fourth game against Nashville last spring, Ozzie's playoff record is 26-8 with a 1.79 GAA and .927 save percentage. This time around, he's held the opposition to two goals or fewer in 11 of his 16 starts???and he actually won three of the five in which he didn't. That's not just making stops. It's making them when they matter.
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