I have watched a few of the Western Conference Finals games - including the decisive game 6 - and have come to the conclusion, like many other hockey writers and fans, that the Red Wings are a very tough team to beat.
In a conference believed to be the better of the two in the league (by just about everybody), the Wings have managed to dispatch of 3 opponents while losing only 4 games in the process.
What's interesting about that is that each series has concluded in the opponents building...with dominating performances by the Wings.
Against Nashville, a 3-0 win on April 20th
Against Colorado, and 8-2 win, and 4-0 sweep on May 1st.
And against Dallas, a team that seemed to have stolen the momentum after winning games 4 and 5, a 4-1 win on May 19th.
That last win, to put the Wings back into the finals (a place they seem to like, and never leave!) was perhaps the most impressive, in a long line of impressive performances, by a team that has more Stanley Cup Finals experinece and victories than any other in the NHL.
As I watched game 6, I thought of these words when seeing the Wings in action:
Through 82 regular season games and 3 rounds of the playoffs, there is no better team in hockey (right now).
As I look to the finals, I see a proven team, with more rings than Saturn, against a young talented team (perhaps better than some give them credit for) that wants to prove it is good enough to hoist the cup.
The Wings are obviously the favorite.
For the Penguins to win, they need to find a way to match Detroit's tenacity and tempo. While I believe the Penguins are capable of that, I don't think their run to the cup has prepared them as well in that regard.
The Pens dispatched a disarrayed Ottawa team in 4 games. They were not really challenged.
Against the Rangers, they lost what could have been a 4 game sweep, but rebounded with a tough game 5 win at home. They faced their first real adversity in that series...but it was not for long.
Against the Flyers, they again lost a game 4 but rebounded with their most decisive win of the playoffs, a 6-0 win in game 5.
In no series to date, were these Penguins ever pushed to play more than a game or two of their best hockey.
Some may argue, that they were so much better than their opponents that they did not need to play more than a game or two of their best.
This may actually be true.
But the Red Wings are better than any team the Pens could have faced in the East. And it is almost a guarantee that if the Pens are to win the cup, they will need to play at least 4 of their best games of the year.
I don't believe the Wings are unbeatable. No team is. I have seen unbeatable teams lose (the 93' Pens to the Isles).
But to win, the Pens will have to take their game to it's highest level, and keep it there for the entire series.
When I started writing this blog, my intention was to segue into something like "THE FIVE THINGS THE PENS NEED TO DO TO BEAT THE WINGS".
The trouble is, I am not really sure what they are.
I do know this though - the Pens have a chance if they:
1) can match the Wings intensity and speed
2) can find a way to score goals when they are 5 on 5 - against a team that takes away time and space
3) can draw and capitalize on power plays - the Wings take penalties (and maybe should even have a few more called on them...they walk the obstruction line very finely) but they seem to enjoy killing them off and scoring short handed goals in the process
4) can regain their composure quickly, if/when they lose an early/tough game
5) can use their youthful exuberence to counteract the wings experience and find a way to "WANT IT MORE" than the Wings do
Even then, it may not be enough...
But I am hopeful.
Either way...these guys have given us a great ride and deserve this shot.
They seem to find a new way to impress me with each round.
Let's hope they have at least one more round in them.