The Stanley Cup Final begins on Saturday.
The playoffs have been outstanding, although they lost a little momentum in the Conference Finals as Detroit beat Chicago in just five games and the Penguins swept a gritty Carolina team in four games.
I have been sitting in a studio at TSN for the entire playoffs, learning plenty about what it takes to build a winner, to get to know players and their ultimate roles on a winning team, and which players you can count on when the game is on the line.
I am now heading to Detroit for the Final to work alongside Mike Milbury between periods on NBC, and just the anticipation of seeing a mature and professional Sidney Crosby advance to his second straight Stanley Cup Finals is going to be exciting.
The Penguins have an advantage for sure as the Wings are banged up a little, and with the Final going back-to-back on Saturday and Sunday, you have to think the healthy Penguins will jump all over the Wings to get a head start on the series.
Detroit's Pavel Datsyuk, Nik Lidstrom and Kris Draper are injured, so who knows how well the Wings will start the series? The cast of Henrik Zetterberg, Dan Cleary, Johan Franzen and Game 5 hero Darren Helm have been outstanding, as have defensemen Brian Rafalski, Brad Stuart and Nik Kronwall.
The MVP for Detroit has been Chris Osgood, hands down. I have been so impressed with his ability to focus and to let any doubt from outsiders slide off his back. He was very average in the regular season and at one point his GM, Ken Holland, had him take 10 days off for a little “clarity” to get ready for the playoffs. They have had a long-standing relationship and that trust is something that can’t be underestimated.
The Penguins are here because they belong here. They took Detroit to six games last year but ran out of steam.
Your best players have to lead when it matters most and for me the best player in the playoffs has been Sidney Crosby.
In the first round against Philadelphia, when their backs were against the wall and they were trailing in Game 6, it was Sidney that got things going and changed the momentum, and the same thing can be said for that brilliant series against the Capitals that ended in a Penguins blowout…in Washington, no less….against Alex Ovechkin. Great players do those things and cement a reputation.
He has had plenty of help as Evgeni Malkin is coming into his own right now. His speed, patience with the puck, and power was too much for the ‘Canes. They had no answer.
The wingers for Crosby have been very good as well, with Bill Guerin having a career playoff in points with 15. After starting the postseason slowly, Chris Kunitz has turned it up patrolling Crosby’s left wing. He has history going against the Wings, with all those battles while playing for the Anaheim Ducks, and the animosity he has against them will find its way in the locker room, for sure. It is never a bad thing to have leaders like that in such a heightened environment.
The Penguins have a solid core of defensemen and combine solid shutdown guys when you talk about Rob Scuderi and Hal Gill, and they will see plenty of Zetterberg and Franzen. They play a solid “Dot to Dot” game, where they keep the puck carrier on the outside, and don’t over commit.
Marc Andre Fleury has really evolved in the net. He has matured as a goalie and a teammate, and has made the key saves at the right times in these playoffs, as he did last season. He is just fun to watch because he is a very athletic and active goalie that makes playing the position look like fun. He is always smiling on the outside, but is fiercely competitive on the inside, much like Osgood. Both are candidates for the Conn Smythe, in my opinion.
Here are my Conn Smythe favorites:
Enjoy the Finals.