While the 2009 Stanley Cup Final is being billed as Penguins-Red Wings II, the truth is that this Penguins' team is much different from the 2008 edition.
There’s a new head coach in Dan Bylsma, a new aggressive, attacking style of play and the roster received a slight makeover. But what really makes this Penguins’ team vastly different from last year’s squad is experience. Pittsburgh is battle tested from last season’s Cup run and knows exactly what to expect when they take the ice for hockey’s biggest stage Saturday in Detroit for Game 1.
“We learned a lot from last year,” forward Maxime Talbot said. “I don’t think it’s going to be all new for us. We lived it last year. It’s the same building, the same crowd and basically the same team. I think we’ll be a little more ready than last year.”
“I think there was a big advantage to being there last year,” defenseman Rob Scuderi said. “The biggest thing for us is that we know what it’s like to play them. Last year, I can’t speak for everyone, but the first 15 minutes was kind of a shell shock. It was something we had never seen before or experienced playing against the entire season. Having that knowledge of how they play and the areas they try to go to and the things they try to do is a big advantage to us this year.”
In the first installment, the more experienced Red Wings took advantage of the young and talented, but neophyte, Penguins. Detroit ran up 4-0 and 3-0 victories in the opening two games to grab an early 2-0 lead in the series. Pittsburgh rebounded and played even with the Red Wings after that, but never dug itself out of the early hole, falling in six games to Detroit.
“I think it took us a couple games last year to get our feet under us and by that time we were down 2-0,” captain Sidney Crosby
said. “We were watching a little too much. I think we went in there similar to our first year in the playoffs (in 2006). We were just waiting to see what it was going to be like. Then by that time it was too late.”
“The biggest thing is not to panic,” Scuderi said. “I thought we were outplayed severely in the first two games (last year) and we came out with a win in Game 3. But at the same time, we were a little bit back on our heels. I think whatever happens in Game 1, I’m sure that we are going to bounce back and play another good game regardless of whether we win or lose the first game. I think that experience taught this locker room a good lesson.”
This time around, the Penguins won’t sit back and try to adjust to the Red Wings’ style and the intensity of the championship showdown. Expect Pittsburgh to attack the Red Wings early and often.
“It was tough to dig out of that hole and what we’ll be focused on is getting to our game and dictating the pace like we’ve been able to do,” Bylsma said. “With the experience from last year I think our guys understand that’s what we need to do to have success. That’s what we’ll try to do right from the drop of the puck.”
The Penguins will also benefit from having already faced the Red Wings twice in the regular season this campaign, splitting the season series. Last year, the first time Pittsburgh saw Detroit's machine-like execution was in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final.
“To have a little experience and to know what it’s like to play them (really helps),” Scuderi said. “They support the puck extremely well. They’ve played together for a long time. They just put the puck to certain areas sometimes. To know what you’re going into and to know what you’re going to expect is a bit of an advantage. It’s not going to be easy but at least it helps.”
“It’s a lot different knowing what to expect and knowing our opponent a little more,” Crosby said. “The teams know each other better after that experience. There’s a lot more familiarity. We’ve been through it. We’re prepared for what’s ahead. There shouldn’t be any surprises. I think we’ll be ready from the start here.”