Youngsters Evgeni Malkin (left) and Sidney Crosby lead Pens into finals
BATTLE FOR LORD STANLEY | Penguins vs. Red Wings
The Stanley Cup finals, hockey’s equivalent of the World Series, kicks off Saturday night in Detroit with the Red Wings, hockey’s best team in 2007-08, hosting the Pittsburgh Penguins.
It figures to be a great final featuring two teams which have a combined 24-6 record during the playoffs. I’ve been rooting for Pittsburgh since the playoffs started, partly because two of my favorite players (former Hurricane Gary Roberts and tough guy George Laraque) play for them, and partly because Pens’ fans are among the best in the NHL.
Here’s the schedule for the best-of-seven series (all start times 8 p.m.; Games 1 & 2 on the Versus Network, all others on NBC):
Sat., May 24 :: Pittsburgh at Detroit
Mon., May 26 :: Pittsburgh at Detroit
Wed., May 28 :: Detroit at Pittsburgh
Sat., May 31 :: Detroit at Pittsburgh
Mon., June 2 :: Pittsburgh at Detroit (if necessary)
Wed., June 4 :: Detroit at Pittsburgh (if necessary)
Sat., June 7 :: Pittsburgh at Detroit (if necessary)
A few notes about the teams and the series:
– Detroit advances to the Stanley Cup finals for the 23rd time in franchise history and the first time since 2002.
– The Wings and Pens did not play each other during the 2007-08 regular season. It’s the third straight season the Stanley Cup finalists didn’t face off during the regular season.
– Pittsburgh is back in the Cup finals for the first time since winning the second of back-to-back titles in 1992.
– The Penguins will try to win their third Cup in as many appearances. Since 1927, only one team has won in its first three finals appearances – the Islanders, who won in their first four trips (1980-83).
– First Meeting: The 2008 Stanley Cup Final marks the first playoff series between the Red Wings and Penguins in the 41st season that both clubs have been members of the NHL. It is the first postseason meeting of pro franchises from Detroit and Pittsburgh since the 1909 World Series, when the Pittsburgh Pirates topped the Detroit Tigers four games to three in a celebrated competition between Hall of Fame shortstop Honus Wagner for the Pirates and outfielder Ty Cobb for the Tigers.
– The Red Wings and Penguins did not play each other in the 2007-08 regular season. Their most recent meeting occurred Oct. 7, 2006, a 2-0 Red Wings victory at Pittsburgh. Fifteen of the 20 Red Wings who dressed for that game are still with the club; 10 of the 20 Penguins remain with Pittsburgh.
– Roster Additions: The four playoff participants acquired by the Penguins and Red Wings during the regular season — who are now in the Stanley Cup Final — were obtained from clubs that did not qualify for the postseason. The Penguins added wings Marian Hossa and Pascal Dupuis from Atlanta, and D Hal Gill from Toronto at the trade deadline on Feb. 26. The Red Wings added D Brad Stuart from Los Angeles, also at the Feb. 26 trade deadline.
– Tale of the Tape: The Stanley Cup Finalists are an interesting contrast in size and age. Among players who have appeared in at least one playoff game in 2008, the Red Wings’ average age is 32.3, nearly five years older than the Penguins’ average of 27.9. The Penguins measure in at nearly 6’2″ (73.7 inches) and 208 pounds; the Red Wings average just under 6’0″ (71.96 inches) and 195 lbs.
– We’re Number One: The Penguins have 13 former first-round draft picks on their roster, including five players the club has selected in the top five: D Ryan Whitney (fifth overall in 2002), G Marc-Andre Fleury (first overall in 2003), C Evgeni Malkin (second overall in 2004), C Sidney Crosby (first overall in 2005) and C Jordan Staal (second overall in 2006). The others are LW Gary Roberts (12th overall by Calgary in 1984), D Darryl Sydor (seventh overall by Los Angeles in 1990), D Sergei Gonchar (14th overall by Washington in 1992), RW Petr Sykora (18th overall by New Jersey in 1995), RW Marian Hossa (12th overall by Ottawa in 1997), C Kris Beech (seventh overall by Washington in 1999), D Brooks Orpik (18th overall by Pittsburgh in 2000) and C Jeff Taffe (30th overall by St. Louis in 2000).
– The Red Wings have three former first-round picks, one of which the club selected (D Niklas Kronwall, 29th overall in 2000). The others are RW Daniel Cleary (13th overall by Chicago in 1997) and D Brad Stuart (third overall by San Jose in 1998).
– Connections: Detroit D Brian Rafalski and Pittsburgh RW Petr Sykora were teammates on the New Jersey Devils team that won the 2000 Stanley Cup; 46-year-old Detroit D Chris Chelios and Pittsburgh LW Gary Roberts, who turns 42 on May 23, opposed each other in the 1989 Final between Montreal and Calgary.
DETROIT RED WINGS
NHL Playoff Appearance: 56th (17th consecutive)
Stanley Cups: 10 (last SC: 2002)
Last Stanley Cup Final Appearance: 2002
All-Time Playoff Series Record: 61-45
All-Time Playoff Game Record: 281-252-1
How They Got Here: Defeated the Nashville Predators, 4-2, in the Conference Quarter-Finals; defeated the Colorado Avalanche, 4-0, in the Conference Semifinals; defeated the Dallas Stars, 4-2, in the Conference Finals.
KEY DATES – 2007-08
Jan. 2/08 — The Red Wings set an NHL record for most first-half victories with a 4-1 victory over Dallas, posting a 30-8-3 mark through 41 contests.
Jan. 8/08 — Against Colorado, D Chris Chelios becomes the second-oldest player in NHL history, second only to Gordie Howe.
Mar. 13/08 — The Red Wings reach the 100-point mark for the eighth consecutive season with a 5-3 victory over Dallas, matching the Montreal Canadiens’ record streak from 1974-75 through 1981-82. In addition, the victory clinches their seventh consecutive division title as well as a berth in the Stanley Cup playoffs for the 17th consecutive season, the longest active streak of qualifying for the postseason among the major pro sports.
Apr. 3/08 — The Red Wings clinch the sixth Presidents’ Trophy in franchise history with a 3-2 victory over the Columbus Blue Jackets, assuring themselves home-ice advantage throughout their participation in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
NHL Playoff Appearance: 22nd (2nd consecutive)
Stanley Cups: 2 (1991, 1992)
Last Stanley Cup Final Appearance: 1992
All-Time Playoff Series Record: 23-20
All-Time Playoff Game Record: 122-105
How They Got Here: Defeated Ottawa Senators 4-0 in Conference Quarter-Final; defeated New York Rangers 4-1 in Conference Semifinal; defeated Philadelphia Flyers 4-1 in Conference Final.
KEY DATES – 2007-08
Dec. 8/07 — The Penguins complete a three-game sweep of their ‘Crosby-Mania’ swing through Western Canada with a 2-1 shootout victory at Vancouver. In the most exciting stretch of the Penguins’ season, the club scores four goals in the third period to defeat Edmonton 4-2 and posts consecutive shootout victories at Calgary and Vancouver.
Dec. 20/07 — G Ty Conklin makes his first career start in a Penguins uniform, stopping 37 shots and both shootout attempts in a 5-4 victory at Boston. Conklin, recalled from the AHL Dec. 6 after an injury to starter Marc-Andre Fleury, goes on post victories in each of his first nine starts.
Jan. 1/08 — The Penguins strike just 21 seconds into the game and C Sidney Crosby scores the game-winning shootout goal in a 2-1 victory over Buffalo in the AMP Energy Winter Classic in front of more than 71,000 at Buffalo’s Ralph Wilson Stadium.
Feb. 10/08 — C Evgeni Malkin tallies his fifth consecutive multiple-point game with a goal and three assists in a 4-3 victory over Philadelphia. Malkin ups his total to 21 points in 10 games without the
injured Sidney Crosby in the lineup.
Feb. 26/08 — Pittsburgh acquires RW Marian Hossa and RW Pascal Dupuis from Atlanta for RW Colby Armstrong, C Erik Christensen, C Angelo Esposito and Pittsburgh’s 1st-round draft pick in 2008 at the trading deadline. The club also acquires D Hal Gill from Toronto for a 2nd-round draft pick in 2008 and 5th-round pick in 2009.
Mar. 4/08 — Crosby returns to the lineup in a 2-0 victory at Tampa Bay after missing 21 games with a high ankle injury suffered Jan. 18.
Mar. 25/08 — The Penguins clinch a berth in the Stanley Cup Playoffs with a 2-0 victory at New Jersey.
For more, you can read the great John Buccigross’ column about the finals and other things hockey by going here.