The Wings won the Cup last night. It makes me happy. Pittsburgh is a really promising team with a heap of young talent that whether together or in other cities WILL win their share of Stanley Cups, but Detroit is just too damned good.
The current team has plenty of experience, yet isn't terribly old - Chelios and Hasek excepted.
In the final round, as good a fight as Pittsburgh put up - it often looked really evenly matched (the first seven periods of the series excepted) - there was barely a single stat that Pittsburgh led in for any relevant length of time. Sure, there were two games where the Penguins led on the scoreboard at the end of a game. In game three that was mostly because Detroit looked a little old for the second period and then couldn't catch up. They turned around and never looked weary again - even late in overtime in game five. In game five it was Fleury, whose outstanding goaltending outdueled Osgood for a game - most importantly in the last three periods of the game. Osgood looked like the goat in that game, but he was in fact solid straight through the series from start to finish. But when you shut-out the competition for nearly seven straight periods at the start of a series there is only one direction to go... I predict that that single direction was the reason he didn't win the Conn Smythe.
Zetterberg won the Conn Smythe. I've got no argument with that. If you saw game four you know that Detroit weathered nearly a full two minutes of 5 on three. If it had been 5 on Zetterberg it would have made no difference. He seemed to single-handedly killed that pair of penalties and nearly got a short-hander out of it to boot. It was totally fucking amazing. He also tied that Pittsburgh kid for points in the playoffs at 27.
Last time the Wings won the Cup - six years ago - the Conn Smythe was won, for the first time by a European. Niklas Lidstrom. Last night he did something else no European has ever done before - he was the first to hoist the Cup. The honour of recieveing the Cup goes to the team Captain. No European has ever Captained a Stanley Cup winner until now.
Historically I don't really see it as that momentous. But it is worth considering why it hasn't happened until now. Europeans have been playing the the NHL for longer than I've been alive. Granted, there wasn't a particularly big influx of them until the Russians started playing in the NHL - significantly Fetisov and Larionov, in 1989. Which wasn't so long ago really. Larionov played for Detroit for all three of it's previous Stanley Cups in the past 12 years - most recently 2002. Fetisov for the first two. It was a decade ago that the league made the two year All-Star game experiment of dividing the league between North American players and European Players, rather than East and West conferences. They couldn`t have done that if there wasn`t significant balance in the league. So, if in theory there were as many marquee players of European decent as North American a decade ago and more, then why did it take this long for one to Captain a team to victoryÉ Certainly, there was some reticence to making them Captains. But TEN YEARSÉ I haven`t looked at the stats. I`m sure some mining there would be illuminating.
What seemed far more interesting to me was who he handed it to. I always thought that there was something special being said in who the Cup was handed to first after the Captain. Some kind of acknowledgement, that `hey you are special to this team - this victory.` The two most significant being Steve Yzerman handing the cup to a wheelchair bound Vladimir Konstantinov in 1998 - which caused me to burst into tears ina bout a quarter of a second; and Joe Sakic wasting an entire two seconds between recieving the Cup from Gary Bettman and handing it over to Ray Bourque in 2001. Failing such obvious emotional choices there are other options, including any single one of; a stand-out player who DIDN`T win the Conn Smythe (which Borque was), a veteran workhorse who has likely played his last game (which Bourque was), a veteran who had finally won the Cup (Bourque for the trifecta), a goaltender who worked his ass off - which strikes me as the default choice. Last night Lidstrom passed the Cup to Dallas Drake. Drake is my age - which is to say that failing a Chelios-like stamina (which it`s safe to say he doesn`t have) he is going to retire any moment now. This was his first Cup.