Profiling the Stanley Cup Finals

(Note: Just so that we’re clear, I am a huge Dallas Stars fan. I had low expectations for this Stanley Cup playoffs given their past performance, but they shocked everyone, including me, with their run to the Western Conference Finals this year. I was at Game 6 of the Western Conference Semis against the Sharks, and it was the best game I’ve ever been to. They just didn’t have enough left in the tank for Detroit. I’m proud of them, and I hope that they continue their winning ways next season.)

This year’s Stanley Cup Finals has potential to be an attention-grabbing Finals for the NHL, with some caveats and provisions. But what about it makes it so tantalizing? A few things.

Detroit Red Wings1. The Detroit Red Wings. This team is the most recognizable team in the NHL. Though friends north of the border may see it differently, here in the States the team with the largest following is, without a doubt, the Red Wings. Their logo is clearly the most recognizable, and is worn in several films and television shows (think Cameron in Ferris Bueler’s or Dr. Cox in Scrubs). They have the largest fanbase of any team in the league. Think New York Yankees of the NHL. That’s not such a huge deal until you can clearly hear the opposing fans taunting YOUR goalie by chanting his name and see their octopus on the ice in YOUR arena. That starts to grate on the nerves after a bit. They inspire strong emotions, either for or against.
They are intimidating: fast, talented, hard hitting, yet defensive at the same time. For some reason, the all-red home sweaters/uniforms are intimidating.

Pittsburgh Penguins2. The Pittsburgh Penguins. This is a team that has been in the cellar of the NHL for the past decade. They have some history, winning back-to-back Cups in the early 1990s with Mario Lemieiux, but since then have been to the Conference Finals twice, losing both times. But this is a different team and a different time. They have one of the youngest rosters in the NHL with some of the most explosive talent. It starts with Sidney Crosby, the Captain, and purported next “Gretzky” of the NHL. Crosby is the youngest Captain in NHL history, and last year won the NHL’s Art Ross Trophy (NHL’s scoring title), the Hart Trophy (MVP as voted by the NHL Writers’ Association), and the Lester B. Pearson Award (MVP as voted by the NHLPA). Folks argue that he is the future posterboy of the National Hockey League due to his remarkable talent.
Next you have Evgeni Malkin, another jaw-dropping talent. He put together a 106 point season with the Penguins, scoring forty seven goals and fifty nine assists in eighty two games, good enough for second league-wide. Throw in Marian Hossa, another scoring talent, and the Pens have some strength at the forward position. Add to that Marc-Andre Fleury, a young, talented netminder, and you have a young team with solid talent that is on its way up and not going anywhere.

3. The Styles of Play. Both teams feature a puck-possession style of play that makes for exciting hockey. These two teams can be expected to hold the puck, make lots of passes that will result in some impressive scoring chances. That gives the goaltenders the chance to shine.

The Caveats
1. The Coverage. Games 1 and 2 are on Versus, with the rest on NBC. The Red Wings won Game 1, and if they win Game 2, the series could be nearly over before it even reaches a national audience. That alone could mess the whole thing up. But, if the Pens can even the series going back to Pittsburgh, it could make for an interesting situation.
The question is, though, will NBC capitalize on it? This is the dream matchup for the NHL, but whether it brings interest to the sport depends entirely on marketing. Will the networks market it properly? The sport has always been the unwanted stepchild of whatever network it has been on (save Versus, who have done a good job making it their flagship sport but are hindered by limited market penetration and recognition), and NBC hasn’t done a smashing job in this arena. If they were to embrace the sport and market this series for what it is, they might be able to drum up the interest that the sport so very badly needs.

2. The Games. Will the games actually go the way that the league hopes? Will it be a pitched battle, with lots of scoring, exciting plays, and a showcase of tantalizing talent? Or will it be an uneven series tilted towards the Red Wings? The Wings won Game 1 in convincing fashion, destroying the Pens 4-0 and dominating the game. If that continues, this series could be done in four games, and won’t live up to the hype or hope of the NHL.

Personally, I hope that the series is epic. I would like a six or seven game series with lots of exciting play. I’m rooting for the Penguins, but more than anything hope that it’s a close, exciting series that draws interest back into hockey.


3 Responses to “Profiling the Stanley Cup Finals”

  1. 1 liberaldespoticterrorist May 26, 2008 at 12:10 pm

    You just can’t mess with the D. As far as a long series, the Wings usually put on a good series in the finals.
    Detroit advances to the Stanley Cup finals for the 23rd time in franchise history and the first time since 2002.
    Pittsburgh is back in the Cup finals for the first time since winning the second of back-to-back titles in 1992.
    Stats provided by
    The funny thing to me is that I remember Osgood when he first came to the D when I was not even a teenager. Then he left, now he is back. The one save I’ll remember of his until the day I die is he stopped a shot, it deflected, bounced up over his head, and he basically bridged back to catch it. It was phenomenal.
    However, there are also sad Wings memories, like when Konstantinov (sp?) got paralyzed in the car wreck with a trainer because the limo driver was coked up right after winning the cup.

  2. 2 pbpope May 26, 2008 at 6:06 pm

    Ah, Vlady. I remember that, there were signs in ’98 all over the place, “Win it for Vlady!” That is also when my favorite Osgood memory occurred… Redirecting a shot from center ice by Jamie Langenbrunner less than a minute into OT in Game 5 of the Conference Finals against the Stars. The puck was going well wide, but went in.

    I’ve resigned myself to the Wings winning the series, I just want it to be a series that is fun to watch, not a total dominsation.

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