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Pens/Wings Play Out by the Book

Let's be real for a minute. The 2009 Stanley Cup Finals were tailor-made for the Penguins. The better team did not win. And I'm not saying this because I'm a biased Detroit native. Nor am I saying it because I'm sour. (No, seriously. I'm not.) But I would consider anything less than a parade through Pittsburgh a disappointing run for Penguin enthusiasts. Considering the set-up, losing to the Wings would have been like taking home a dime just to find out she only wants to snuggle. Allow me to elaborate.

Following game five against the Hawks, Detroit was nursing a handful of wounded soldiers. Hart candidate/Selke winner Pavel Datsyuk had a hurt foot that eventually kept him out of the first four games of the series, while Norris candidate Nick Lidstrom had just missed two games against Chicago with what was classified as an "undisclosed lower body injury." (Alright, that was appropriately concealed.) Kopecky wasn’t an option along the bench. Hossa had a sore knee, and the list goes on. The reality of the matter is the Wings were more damaged than Lindsay Lohan after a drawn-out cocaine binge.

Ultimately, I think Kris Draper’s absence may have been the catalyst in the outcome of the entire series. Yep, I went there. Nevermind the element of leadership he brings to the locker room, consider this: the Pens went 3-for-6 on power play opportunities in the first three games of the series, and still held a 2-1 series deficit. Once Draper had been inserted into the line-up beginning in game four, the Penguins PP wasn’t nearly as effective, going 1-for-8 the remainder of the series. Draper’s positioning and, more importantly, the Wings’ puck-possession off his defensive zone draws played a role in adjusting those numbers.

Down 2-0 after game two, the Penguins put up a 4-2 win while going 2-for-3 on the power play (one of their even-strength goals coming on an empty net), and being out-shot 29-21. What would have happened if Draper suited up for this game? Given the Red Wings’ PK success rate in games four through seven, probability tells us the chances of Pittsburgh scoring just one power-play goal in game three is at 33%. 33%!!! Just one goal! Turn that 4-2 Pens win into a 2-1 Wings game, and this series is finished by game five. Done and done.

Furthermore, Osgood outplayed Fluery. The man had the Conne Smythe wrapped up (and deserved it despite losing the series). His stat line through 23 games of grueling playoff puck: 2.01 GAA, .926 SV%, 2 SO. And those are busch-league numbers compared to his play in the SCF series: 1.86 GAA, .931 SV%, 1 SO. Can anyone contact Stats, Inc.? I’d love to know if any goalie has ever lost a Cup Finals series after posting a GAA less than two. The last time a goalie won the Smythe after losing the series? J.S. Giguere in 2003. His stats during the Finals? 2.57 GAA, .911 SV%, 1 SO. I don’t like Osgood, and will argue on behalf of his omittance from Toronto until the day I die. But the guy put on a show more entertaining than MJ (RIP) and was snubbed of some hardware.

The bottom line is this: had the NHL prolonged the lay-off between the Conference and Stanley Cup Finals series like originally planned, Detroit would have had an extra week to lick their wounds. Datsyuk and Draper would have been available for all seven games (although we already determined it wouldn’t have gone any further than five). Instead of juggling line-ups to include those players, Mike Babcock could have tweaked his roster as an adjustment derived from the series, as he did against Anaheim with success. Down 2-1 against the Quacks, Babcock’s forward line rearrangement cued a two-goal performance from the ghost of Marian Hossa and paved the way for a 3-1 series comeback.

This fine-tuning of the Wings-mobile provided results because their big names were readily available and their general offensive depth was second to none. Dismissing Malkin, Crosby, Zetterberg and Franzen (each team’s top-two scorers), Detroit rostered four of the next five leaders in points among the two benches, and this secondary scoring had been the Wings’ bread and butter all season long. I really believe if Babcock had a full round of ammunition against the Pens from game one, he’d find a way to provide a spark.

But that opportunity was never available. The script had already been written with a closing scene down Grant St.


Nick Hubbell
nickhubbell@tmail.com

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