Wings, Pens poised for best finals ever
Thursday, 05.22.2008 / 4:22 PM / Features
|Jordan Staal wins a face-off against Dallas Drake in a pre-season game played at Joe Louis Arena on September 21, 2007. Wings win West | Pens win East|
Mike Emrick, Ed Olczyk, Mike Milbury and Pierre McGuire, all members of NBC’s NHL broadcast team, proved that on Wednesday during an informal media conference call promoting what is sure to be one of the more entertaining Stanley Cup finals in recent memory.
"I cannot recall more stars in a Final since 1987, when Edmonton had five of the best," said the always insightful Emrick. "But they were all on one team and all those guys, Wayne Gretzky, Paul Coffey, Jari Kurri, Mark Messier and Grant Fuhr, are in the Hall of Fame now. This time, we have the stars divided among two teams, and the hockey gods are smiling so wide that you can count their missing teeth."
Milbury feels Detroit's experience bodes well for the Wings' chances in a series of this magnitude.
"Can the enthusiasm and talent of the Penguins overcome the experience and talent of the Red Wings?" he asked. "It's a fascinating series in that those who always thought experience prevails might have to reconsider. But I'd have to give the edge to the Wings, but not by much, since Pittsburgh is so talented, so exciting and so much fun to cover."
The opening two games will be played Saturday and Monday at Joe Louis Arena in Detroit and telecast on VERSUS (8 p.m. EDT). The remaining games in the best-of-seven series, beginning Wednesday, will be broadcast on NBC (8 p.m. EDT).
McGuire likes the depth on the Penguins' roster and is extremely impressed with both coaches.
"Both teams are byproducts of the new NHL," McGuire said. "They both utilize the stretch pass, they both have huge amounts of skill, they both have young players with tremendous intensity, and perhaps the biggest thing, they both have solid coaching. I give a little bit of an advantage to (Mike) Babcock in Detroit because he’s coached in the Final before with Anaheim (2003).
"We can celebrate the star power and the athleticism in goal, but it's going to be tough for Detroit to match up 1-2-3 at center — (Sidney) Crosby, (Evgeni) Malkin, (Jordan) Staal and then, as a fourth center, there's (Maxime) Talbot. So Detroit is going to have to match up with Pittsburgh's overall depth if they are to be successful."
Emrick admits this type of matchup is just what the game and its fans need.
"They don't call Detroit 'Hockeytown' for nothing, but you also have a contrast here in that Detroit may be more experienced, but Pittsburgh is the bigger of the two teams," Emrick said. "The Penguins didn't have to work as hard as Detroit to get there, but both teams have had plenty of rest. I think the stars are aligned for the NHL to grow in its popularity in a lot of places where, maybe, it hasn't been so popular. It will have a great chance now."
McGuire took it one step further when he stated this year's Final is just the tip of the iceberg to future Stanley Cup classics.
"Never before in the history of the league have we showcased this much talent in such a short period of time, and it will continue to grow," McGuire said of the league's talent level. "The 2008 Draft and upcoming 2009 Entry Draft are off the charts in terms of young talent, so this is not just a one-hit wonder kind of a final. I honestly believe this is poised to go for a long period of time, and if the NHL were a stock coming out of the lockout, that would have been the time to buy because there has been great young talent emerging all over the league."
Pittsburgh made a huge splash at the trade deadline when it acquired wingers Marian Hossa and Pascal Dupuis from Atlanta and defenseman Hal Gill from Toronto. Olczyk and McGuire feel the Penguins would not be in the position they are today without Hossa.
"Marian is a very underrated defensive player," Olczyk said. "He can kill penalties and put a lot of pressure on people with the way he forechecks. I don’t think he gets enough credit for the ability he has, not only as an offensive player but as a two-way performer.’’
Hossa, 29, already has collected a career-high 19 playoff points, including a personal-high nine goals, in 14 games.
"His nickname when he played in Portland (of the Western Hockey League) was 'Hello and Goodbye,' because of his speed," McGuire said. "He'd say hello to you before blowing right by. He has brought that unbelievable speed to the Pens, and he puts opposing forwards in panic mode because of that speed and size.
"But Marian also brings one other thing that's very important. He brings a failed resume that he wants to prove is not correct. He's proud of what he's accomplished on an international level and now wants to prove he could do it in the NHL."
Then there's the debate over who is the better player, Pittsburgh's Sidney Crosby or Detroit's Henrik Zetterberg, who are tied for leading scorer in the playoffs with 21 points.
"Whereas Crosby is unique in terms of his power, Zetterberg has that intelligence with the puck," Milbury offered.
"Crosby is as solid as a sledgehammer, and the two guys in Detroit (Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk) are as skillful as surgeons," McGuire said. "They'll rip you apart with surgical precision, but Crosby has this (Peter) Forsberg thing going where he has shown a tremendous amount of lower-body strength and is able to dominate as a result."
Olczyk knows each player is extremely difficult to contain.
"It's different when you’re trying to defend these guys face-to-face, but when they get you on their backside and tuck the puck away, they are so elusive," he said. "You want to take away their time and space, but when they have their back to you, it's almost impossible to get the puck back. And there aren’t many players who can do it better than Crosby, Zetterberg and Datsyuk.’’
While Emrick considers the debate a fun topic, he prefers to take the high road.
"Who cares who's better," he said. "It was some 20 years ago that people raised the question, 'Who's better, Gretzky or (Mario) Lemieux?' I say, 'Who cares?' They're both in the same solar system and we get to watch them and we're sure to have fun doing so. It's going to be outstanding watching all these guys on the same sheet of ice for as many as seven times."
Contact Mike Morreale at email@example.com.