21 May 2008

Playoff Preview: The Battle of NPI

It comes down to this, folks. The Detroit Red Wings vs. the Pittsburgh Penguins for the Cup. Me vs. Elly. I made a really awesome Battle of NPI banner for the blog, but my computer overheated before I thought to save it. I'm smart, I know.

We at NPI think the highlight of this series is that it is going to have to be some amazing hockey. The two best teams in the league facing each other head on, the likes of which each other has never seen - not since preseason. Whichever team takes this series is going to have to be nearly perfect to do it.

Key Matchups:

Offensively, everyone is talking about the one-two punches of Sid the Kid and Evgeni Malkin vs. the Eurotwins and Selke finalists, Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg. There's basically no arguing these are the two most exciting, skilled combinations in hockey. Both duos have 40 point between them (20 goals and 20 assists for Pav and Hank, 13 and 37 for Sid and Geno), and both have proven themselves absolutely deadly. Perhaps because neither of the Eurotwins singlehandedly saved hockey (I kid), they don't seem to get the league-wide attention Crosby and Malkin do - but perhaps this will be the season that ends that. The Penguins pair is glamorous and offensively gifted, but the Red Wings duo excels at both ends of the ice, as obvious by their twin Selke nominations, and may be the more well-rounded. Either way, neither can be taken lightly.

Of course these aren't the only weapons for either team - Pittsburgh is finally getting their money's worth out of 20-point Marian Hossa, and the Wings, until he was sidelined with concussion symptoms, had a 12 goals in 11 games scorer in the Mule, Johan Franzen, as well as Tomas Holmstrom being a pest in front of the net. And of course something must be mentioned of the WWGRD phenomenon creating Gary Roberts - just not sure what that something should be (I'm a fan of the bracelets, for the record - but I'm going to have to boycott them through this series). Each team has established secondary scoring and substantial depth.

Both teams look strong on the defensive front. The Penguins who were originally thought to have a suspect blueline going into the playoffs added Hal Gill to compliment Sergei Gonchar among others. The Wings, however have the unflappable Nicklas Lidstrom (if they take the Cup this year it will be his fourth with the team, an honor he shares with the Grind Line and Holmstrom) and his new partner Brian Rafalski who combined are at least among, if not, the best defensive pairs in hockey. And then there's Niklas Kronwall and new addition Brad Stuart - don't call the Wings a soft team. These two will hunt you down. They will find you. And they will smear you across the boards. This defense has been a huge part of the Red Wings' success - they've seriously limited their opponents shots on goal, and if you can't get the puck on the net, you can't put it in, either.

And finally, the goaltending. Veteran Chris Osgood, a cup winner but often criticized as being the winning goaltender on a team that could have taken the cup with a pylon in net, fighting to prove his goaltending worth against relative newcomer, though not without any credibility to his name, Marc-Andre Fleury. Osgood (10-2, 1.60 GAA, .931 SV%) stole the start from Dominik Hasek and has been stellar ever since, but surely the Wings defense has played a huge part in that. Fleury (12-2, 1.70 GAA, .938 SV%) has been the Pens go-to goalie from the beginning and likely the stronger overall between the two, not to mention he's managed an admirable 3 shutouts so far, but he's also got inexperience working against him. Osgood should be on a mission - if he takes the Cup this year will it redeem him against all the trash talk he's heard since his last victory? The worst goalie to win a Cup is one thing, but I'm not sure you can argue the worst goalie to win two cups.
When it comes down to it, the teams are incredibly even-looking. Which will wind up on top, the youthful Penguins or the renewed Red Wing dynasty? Will we stay friends? Will the series be everything that's being predicted of it? We can only hope.

Game 1 -- Saturday May 24th, 8:00 p.m. Pittsburgh at Detroit
Game 2 -- Monday, May 26th, 8:00 p.m. Pittsburgh at Detroit
Game 3 -- Wednesday, May 28th, 8:00 p.m. Detroit at Pittsburgh
Game 4 -- Saturday, May 31st, 8:00 p.m. Detroit at Pittsburgh
x-Game 5 -- Monday, June 2nd, 8:00 p.m. Pittsburgh at Detroit
x-Game 6 -- Wednesday, June 4th, 8:00 p.m. Detroit at Pittsburgh
x-Game 7 -- Saturday, June 7, 8:00 p.m. Pittsburgh at Detroit
Let's get it done before Game 7, okay guys? I'm lined up to go see The National in Pontiac that night.

Around the Web:

Elly and I are off to Toronto for the weekend so posting opportunities through Game 2 will be slim - thus, we refer you to some solid blogs from both teams to keep you posted in our absence.

Representing the Wings:
And the Penguins:

Friends & Foes
When your team has been disposed of, is it time to jump on the bandwagon of one of the potential Cup champs? Whether the answer is yes or no, everyone seems to be swaying at least one way or another. Through this final stretch of the season, the Red Wings have lured in such esteemed bloggers as Katebits (at least for the day!), Kirsten and Nadine, and the Penguins, meanwhile, have earned the loyalties of Cat (by way of latent understandable Wings hatred) and have been Connie's sweethearts from the beginning...anyone else? So far the Wings have it 3-2; Heather apparently likes both, and Sherry is leaving it up to whomever between Elly and I are more convincing over the course of this weekend in which we'll all be in Toronto. Let us know who you're rooting for and we'll add you to the list!
Once again, the series promises to be amazing - I can only hope it follows through. Hold on, folks, it ought to be quite a ride.


CapsChick said...

Great, great, preview girls - I have to say the best thing about this series for me will be watching two of the funniest girls I know battle it out in the blogosphere.

As for picking a team...well, you know who I'll be rooting for ;) Sorry Elly!

Connie said...

It's so crazy how good both these teams are! I kind of don't want there to be a loser but I'm SO curious to see who's gonna win!

Kirsten said...

I'm SO in for the Red Wings that I'm even being nice. It's killing me on the inside, and I'm probably going to hell, but once I pick a team for something, they are mine to the end.

PS, I want to see a bitchfight, girls! It's the FINALS. Reputations, marriages, and lives are on the line here.

Connie said...

HAHAHAH!!!! Throw in a couple of pillow fights and we're set.

Steph said...

CC: I'm not sure Elly's currently speaking to me :P Then again I gave her coffee beer last night so I might be safe until Game 2. It's too bad we don't have better computer access up here, but then again I'm not actually sure you WANT to hear our crazy.

Connie: It's so true, watching the game last night I couldn't get over how good they both looked. The score, while I love it, doesn't remotely reflect the look of the game.

Kirsten: So far I think Elly was more mad at me for dragging her to Darcy Tucker's bar than for Game 1, but it is early yet and I do not expect this to keep up.

Kirsten said...

You went to Darcy Tucker's bar?! HOT! I really want to go there, but my summer is ridiculous. Maybe over winter break I will make the grand voyage back to Toronto.

Connie said...

I wanna go too!!! But I need my passport first... my last passport has a picture of me when I was 2. I think it's expired.

Elly said...

Trust me, ladies, you are not missing out on Tucker's bar.