It was one week ago today that the Detroit Red Wings and Pittsburgh Penguins wrapped up a memorable Stanley Cup Final with a terrific Game 7 at Joe Louis Arena. All the historical numbers favored the Red Wings heading into the game, but as I said in a pre-game interview on NHL Network, there are many reasons why only three previous Final series went seven games with the home team winning each game. A Game 7 at home is the reward you get for a superior regular season, but you still have to play the game. You still have to perform on that night.
|Detroit's Nicklas Lidstrom pauses for a moment following his team's loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins after Game 7 of theStanley Cup Final. (AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Frank Gunn) |
So, what went wrong for the Detroit Red Wings? The number one thing that went wrong is their opponent, the Pittsburgh Penguins, figured out how to play like a champion. The Penguins took the calm and confident demeanor of their coach Dan Bylsma and approached every situation the same way. The young Pens never panicked when they trailed 2 games to none. They never waivered after they lost Game 5 by a 5-0 score and fell behind 3 games to 2. And, just as importantly, they stuck with it with a 2-0 lead in Game 7. Coach Bylsma kept stressing that his team needed to simply stick to their system. They needed to believe in each other. He was right.
I said prior to the start of these playoffs that the defending champion Red Wings, when playing their best, are still the best team. Would they face a team that could take them out of their game over the course of a seven-game series? They nearly met their match in the second round against the Anaheim Ducks. The Wings prevailed in seven games, but Assistant General Manager Jim Nill called it the most demanding series Detroit had played in his 15 years with the organization. That is quite a statement. But it was the Penguins who were able to take Detroit out of their game for longer stretches. The Pens were able to establish a forecheck and force the experienced and talented Detroit defense into doing things quicker than they wanted. Detroit’s vaunted puck possession game wasn’t the dominant factor in this series.
|Pittsburgh's Evgeni Malkin won the Conn Smythe Trophy as the most valuable player in the playoffs. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey) |
The Penguins needed a couple of key players to step up in the 2009 Final that had sub-par performances in the 2008 Final. At the top of the list was Evgeni Malkin. Last year in the six game series against Detroit, Malkin had just one goal and two assists and was minus-2. In this year’s Final, Malkin was a leader in every sense of the word. He led in terms of points (two goals, six assists) and when he went after Henrik Zetterberg at the end of Game 2, he picked the right spot to send a message to the opposition and his teammates: his team was not ready to give up…and he was going to lead the comeback.
Another player who stepped up in this series was goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury. He had the most to prove after the 5-0 loss in Game 5. He gave up all five goals on only 21 shots and was pulled late in the second period. From that point, Fleury stopped 48 of the last 50 shots he faced in the series. He saved his best two stops for the last 6.5 seconds of Game 7 when he turned aside shots by Zetterberg and Nicklas Lidstrom to preserve the win.
How ironic that the Wings’ 2008 Cup clincher came in Pittsburgh only after a last second Penguins chance was turned aside, and the Penguins’ 2009 Cup clincher came in Detroit only after a last second Red Wings' chance was turned aside!
It was again a pleasure to be a part of the NHL International crew that televised the Stanley Cup Final to 138 countries around the world. My broadcast partner Joe Micheletti is one of the finest analysts and one of the great people in our business. Joe and the rest of the crew not only made covering the games a pleasure, but they were all so supportive as they knew I was keeping an eye on the bankruptcy proceedings in Phoenix.
I’ll be back throughout the summer with more thoughts on Tell-Us-Strader.