I guess there was a precedent with Larry Robinson being hired as coach in mid-season and leading the Devils to the Cup, but when the Pens whacked their coach in mid-season, I was skeptical. I remember thinking to myself “Right, the Pens are out of the playoffs right now. Whacking the coach is really going to fix their horrible power play, their inability to out-shoot an opponent, and they are going to win the next 80% of their games, storm through the playoffs, and make it back to the Finals. Right.”
Usually, when a fan tries to predict series’ outcomes involving their teams, they tend to color their predictions in a rosy light. As a cynical bastard, I tend to do the opposite. Last year, I was convinced that the Pens would get swept, and after losing the first two games on the road without scoring a goal, I felt a cynical vindication. That they finally lost in six was a surprise.
This year is different from last year. Last year, the Pens weren’t really challenged until the Finals, and never recovered from their first two losses. This year, up until the conference finals, the Pens got punched in the mouth a couple of times, and bounced back. Watching them sweep the Canes was unexpected.
So what about these finals?
- It was never made clear if Malkin was injured or not, but he disappeared in the Finals last year. This year, he started off the playoffs slow, and then, after Game 2 against the Caps, seemed to realize he needed to kick ass, and promptly did. Repeatedly. Teams took runs at him and he kept bouncing back.
- Crosby has raised his game to a whole new level. He scored a hat trick in one game against the Caps in a losing effort, and just has kept on coming.
- Neither Fluery nor Osgood are regarded as the best goaltenders around, but they keep coming. Fluery gave up more soft goals against Varmalov (until the meltdown in Game 7) and Ward, but came up with great stops when needed.
- Detroit has a lot of injuries coming into the finals.
How does it shape up?
- As Eddie O has said, Detroit has 7 top 3 forwards in their lineup. They can roll all four lines and contribute.
- Gonchar getting injured had the unexpected side-effect of forcing the Pens to play 7 defenseman, which allows Crosby and Malkin to double-shift every game. It would be insane to do this in the regular season, and probably not that smart to do in the playoffs on a regular basis, but they are both so young that they can take the extra time.
- I think the series’ outcome comes down to Jordan Staal and Chris Kunitz. Commentators keep talking about how great Staal plays, but the fact is that he can’t score for the life of him. He always ‘just misses.’ Kunitz may be close as well. He comes close to scoring but usually doesn’t.
The series looks to go six or seven. If Staal and Kunitz outplay Cleary and Helm, I think they win. If they don’t, they won’t.