Starkey: Pens-Wings, Part III?

| Friday, June 19, 2009

Before we get to the topic at hand - the rematch that really must happen - a quick story from Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final:

That morning, in a 2-on-1 drill with Tyler Kennedy, Sidney Crosby beat Marc-Andre Fleury to the far high corner, and the puck stuck in the top of the net, below the crossbar, twisted in the twine.

I hadn't seen such a thing in 14 years of watching mostly monotonous morning skates. What made it more interesting was the Penguins' refusal to remove the puck. It stayed stuck up there for the duration of the skate.

"We were admiring it," Kennedy said that morning.

Crosby was asked if it might be a good omen.

"I hope so," he said.

It sure seemed that way when Max Talbot scored the Cup winner that night, putting the puck in almost the exact same spot, in the exact same net, on a 2-on-1 with Kennedy.

Now, if the Hockey Gods really know what they're doing, they'll see to it that the Penguins and Detroit Red Wings meet again next year, or at least within the next two.

Something feels unfinished.

These two teams have engaged in 13 high-stakes hockey games over the past two springs, six of the past 11 decided by a goal, and have developed a healthy dislike for one another. Each club has walked away with the Cup, but only after the other narrowly missed a glorious, last-second chance to extend the series.

On June 4, 2008, at Mellon Arena, it was then-Penguins winger Marian Hossa tipping the puck through the crease as time expired in Game 6.

This past Friday night at Joe Louis Arena, it was Fleury making what has been described as the "secret-service save," lunging to take a bullet from Nicklas Lidstrom just before time expired in Game 7.

Have two teams, in any sport, ever played back-to-back championship series that concluded in such dramatic fashion• Imagine teams finishing consecutive World Series on close plays at the plate.

It's probably unrealistic to hope for a rubber match next year. The last time teams from any of the four major North American professional sports played for a title three straight years was 1954-56, when the Red Wings met the Montreal Canadiens.

Of course, the NHL had only six teams back then, and it only took one playoff series to reach the Final.

Penguins general manager Ray Shero came away from this year's Final reflecting on how hard it is just to get there.

"To have two teams do it twice in as many years, that's unbelievable, if you think about it," Shero said. "Three• Wow, that'd be a lot."

We'd settle for three in four years. Even five. Whatever. It has to happen, just as it had to happen for the Boston Celtics and Los Angeles Lakers in the 1980s. Those two split, in 1984 and '85, then came back in '87 to settle things once and for all.

This rivalry has developed a similar kind of bitterness, borne of disparate personalities. Back then, it was the Lakers' flash against the Celtics' grit. Here, it's the Penguins' youthful enthusiasm smacking head-on into Detroit's staid, above-it-all approach.

It's McEnroe against Borg, with a stick to the face and an elbow to the gut. The loathing between these teams and their cities has only begun to boil, so, no, it cannot end now.

Both franchises have still-young cores (Henrik Zetterberg is 28 and Pavel Datsyuk 30, lest anyone think Detroit's core is crumbling), good coaching and excellent management, with owners committed to winning.

That doesn't mean a rubber match is guaranteed.

But something feels unfinished.

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