Six lessons from the Penguins and Red Wings rematch
Wednesday night's game was more proof that this is the NHL's best matchup
The Red Wings demonstrated why they are a top all-time power play force
Sidney Crosby and Jordan Staal showed important signs of a revival
So the Red Wings and Penguins finally got around to Game 7 of the 2008 Stanley Cup Final on Wednesday night, the puck dropping at a little after 7:00 p.m. at Joe Louis Arena, exactly 158 days after originally scheduled. Detroit, of course, had taken care of its title-winning work in six games back in June, so this was simply a tasty lagniappe, a rather less meaningful extra stanza in the Red Wings - Penguins epic.
Game-breaker Marian Hossa had gone from the Penguins to the Wings in the offseason -- spurning millions and a chance to keep playing alongside Sidney Crosby to take fewer millions and a spot on Pavel Datsyuk's wing -- but the game, the most exciting in the league this season, was bizarrely similar to the six meetings that preceded it: Full of giddyup; gripping; long, unceasing stretches of Red Wings dominance answered, in a blink, by the quitless Penguins.
Pittsburgh's 7-6 overtime win did nothing but support the notion that this is hockey's most compelling duel. (Less than 90 days to Game 8, in Pittsburgh.) The takeaway? Six things to keep in mind:
1) Maybe it's okay to bring up your 18-year-old after all. Jordan Staal's steady regression since his fabulous rookie season of 2006-07 was beginning to make people wonder whether he'd been rushed into the league -- an especially pressing issue this season, with about dozen teenagers playing in the NHL. Staal's third-period hat trick and his cool pass to set up the winner could signify the re-start of his trek to stardom.
2) It's the power play, stupid. The Red Wings, clicking at nearly 33%, have a chance to go down among the best man-advantage teams ever. One unit's as withering as the next. The Wings scored three times on six power plays (three different scorers, too) against Pittsburgh, and could have had more.
3) Crosby is thisclose to going off. The guy remains built for the big stage. He had the game's first goal, slicing in front of the net for a tip-in; he added two assists and a team-high six shots, and he whipped a spinning, no-look backhander that drilled the reeling Chris Osgood with 30 seconds left in regulation. Crosby's shifts were the ones that put Detroit on its heels. He's been playing with a bit of distaste. Four goals in 15 games -- he does have 19 points, mind you -- is not to his liking and with the Penguins beaten down by injuries, the young captain is ready to carry his club.
4) The Mule's no fluke. Before Wednesday, Red Wings power forward Johan Franzen had missed five games after taking a wallop to the knee in an exchange with Chicago's Brent Sopel (do we see the sparks of the Wings-Hawks rivalry beginning to flame again?). In a pre-game conversation, as reported by the Detroit News, Franzen (Mule to his teammates) said he was hoping to "keep it simple" in his first game back.
"Don't worry," teammate Tomas Holmstrom said, "you still have it." Yup. Franzen's second-period goal (one of his seven shots) gives him 21 in his last 24 regular-season games. He also had 13 in 16 playoff games last spring. Excuse me? Even on the league's deepest team, this guy is a keeper on the first line.
5) Discipline yourself or perish. Detroit had Wednesday's game in its gloves, up 5-2 in the third before back-to back-penalties gave Pittsburgh a 5-on-3 advantage. The Penguins scored on it, then took advantage of several Red Wings breakdowns to steal the game.
6) A Darren McCarty goal counts for more than one. You shoulda heard the crowd at the Joe when McCarty, the battle-scarred grinder who returned to the Wings last year, potted his first goal of the season to tie the game at 1-1. With a purplish welt seemingly permanent beneath his left eye, and all but a few of his teeth seemingly missing from his head, this guy speaks to the heart of Red Wings fans like no one else on the team.