Anyone outside the city limits of Detroit will give props to the Penguins for not only what they did this season but for what they did in the series and particularly in game seven. It was the third time in 15 Stanley Cup finals that game seven was won by the road team – the last being in 1971 when the Canadiens beat the Blackhawks.
Most teams against a hockey powerhouse like the Red Wings would have folded under the pressure of a 0-2 deficit in the finals, and possibly even with the 3-2, must win deficit. They stuck it out and plaid aggressive, defensive minded hockey that in the end stole the Stanley Cup from a team that already has too many.
Anyone who has had their team lose to the Red Wings over and over again will tell you that no lead is safe against Detroit, especially on their home rink. The fact that the Penguins were able to hold off their last desperate attempt to tie the game in the final seconds (Kronwall’s shot that hit the crossbar with two minutes remaining almost gave me an aneurism) also says something. Even though knowing the Red Wings were losing by one, they had some momentum with two minutes in the game, and momentum like that, with the loud sea of red fans in Joe Louis Arena, is often unstoppable. The Penguins didn’t allow it to happen and remained stalwart in their defense to win the game. I was proud that the Penguins were able to march into Detroit and take what was stolen from them in game six of last year’s finals – and I am not even a Penguins fan.
Since last year’s disappointing loss to the Red Wings, the Penguins have changed their formula to win and it’s basically a taste of Detroit’s own style of play that is to be aggressive at all times, never just defending but being aggressive. Penguins coach Dan Bylsma, who was brought in to lead the team in February, brought that aggressive style of hockey to Pittsburgh and in the end, it really worked.
“I think the game is meant to be played aggressively and in your face,” Bylsma told The New York Times after game seven. “When you can dictate the pace of the game and where it’s played, you can put teams back on their heels. That’s a fun way to play, and, I think, the right way to play.”
Well, whoever in Mario Lemiux’s office decided to change out coaches to Bylsma mid-season should win an award – well, I guess he already has – it’s called the Stanley Cup.
Now the reason I want to thank the Penguins for beating Detroit is not the fact that I hate the Red Wings so much (I still do). It’s the fact that last weekend would have been a total loss if the Red Wings and the Lakers both became champions. That would have been a tough notion to swallow.
I must admit, I didn’t think the Penguins were going to pull off the win in Detroit Friday night. I had been burned by the Red Wings in similar situations in years’ past. So I went into the weekend focusing all my negative energy on Kobe Bryant and the rest of the Lakers who eventually won the NBA Finals in a snoozer of a game on Sunday. But after I saw the demise of the Red Wings on Friday, I really didn’t care if Kobe won the championship or not; the weekend had already been a success because of Detroit’s surprise loss.
If both the Lakers and the Red Wings had won, it would have capped off a winter sports season to forget in my eyes. I hate both teams. Now I hate the Red Wings because well, they are usually so good. I hate the Lakers because of Bryant. He and his lockjaw intense vampire look are just not likable. Yes, he is good. But he’s not likeable.
The perfect weekend would have ended with a Laker/Red Wing loss in the finals. I didn’t get that, nor did I really expect it. By the power of those two teams in their respective sports, having at least one of the teams lose is something I can live with.