While it was clear that the Red Wings were the superior team, the future looks very bright for the Blackhawks. They are very young and very talented, and if they can keep the core of this team together and resolve their goaltending issues, they will be a solid contender for the next several years at least.
The finals will pit the Red Wings against the Pittsburgh Penguins. This will be the first time since 1984 that the finals have featured the same two teams as the previous year’s finals. In that year, the Edmonton Oilers beat the New York Islanders 4 games to 1. In the previous year, the Islanders swept the Oilers in 4 straight games, so I’m sure the payback was sweet for the Oilers.
Last year, the Red Wings beat the Penguins 4 games to 2, so the Penguins will likewise be looking for some payback. In all honesty, I like the Pens' chances, though I will be rooting for the Red Wings. But there seem to be a lot of facts that stack up in the Penguins’ favor. First of all, they’re hot as a pistol, having swept the Carolina Hurricanes 4 straight in the Eastern Conference finals. Second, the Red Wings are pretty banged up right now. Their captain, Nicklas Lidstrom, hasn’t played in the last couple games, and he’s widely regarded as the best defenseman of his generation. Pavel Datsyuk has also remained on the sidelines, and he is generally regarded as a finalist for this year’s MVP award. Kris Draper, possibly the league’s best faceoff man, is also out. So that’s 3 pretty strong minuses right there. Detroit may find themselves very thin on the defensive front for the finals, and that’s a scary proposition considering the offensive firepower in the Penguins’ lineup.
The other reason I feel good about the Pens’ chances is a little less tangible. It’s simply that they had the experience of losing the finals last year and they’ve returned with a lot of hunger and energy. Frankly, they look pretty terrific and may be peaking at just the right time.
Oh, I’d be delighted to be wrong about all of this, and you may rest assured that I’ll be in front of the TV on Saturday night, tuned into NBC’s coverage, when the puck drops on the finals, and I’ll be hoping to see Lidstrom, Datsyuk, and Draper return to the ice. If you’re any kind of hockey fan, I hope you’ll have a chance to take it in yourself!