Penguins-Red Wings rivalry could blossom with NHL realignment
DETROIT — The rubber match never will take place in the Stanley Cup Final.
But it still could happen. It seems almost inevitable.
The Red Wings are in the Eastern Conference and often could be waiting for the Penguins in the conference final.
“We've had special games in the past,” Red Wings coach Mike Babcock said.
The Penguins and Red Wings never have had a rivalry — they just happened to have great teams that produced two consecutive classic series in 2008 and 2009 — but, because of realignment, one finally might develop. They will meet three times every regular season, including twice at Joe Louis Arena this season.
Detroit goalie Jimmy Howard didn't dress during those Stanley Cup Final meetings but was the Red Wings' third goalie. He is convinced one of the great rivalries in hockey is about to be born.
“It's going to be special,” he said. “When I look at our schedule, the first thing I do is look for the Original Six matchups. And the very next thing I do is look for Pittsburgh. And I circle them. It just always feels so heated when we play each other. You can feel the tension that still is there because of those series.”
No players embody that more than Penguins captain Sidney Crosby and Red Wings captain Henrik Zetterberg. In those consecutive meetings in the Stanley Cup Final, Crosby and Zetterberg almost exclusively shared shifts. Zetterberg held Crosby in check, sacrificing his offense because of the exhaustion he felt from chasing Crosby.
They met once this preseason, and despite occasional hostility, things seemed tame. Don't expect those feelings to remain.
“Me and Sid kind of take it easy in these games,” Zetterberg said. “It's pretty friendly between us in these preseason games. But just wait until the regular season starts.”
The Red Wings are delighted to have moved to the Eastern Conference; years of multiple flights to the West Coast each season had taken a toll on the longtime juggernaut.
Do the Penguins wish the Red Wings had stayed in the West, their road to the final now potentially more difficult because of Detroit's presence?
“I actually think it's fun playing them,” right wing Craig Adams said. “You know they'll have a good team. They always do. But it's good to see them more often.”
The feeling seems mutual. Each team recognizes the talent on the other's roster, and both seem intrigued by the springtime showdowns that could ensue.
“They're great,” Penguins defenseman Paul Martin said. “And I think it's going to be a great measuring stick for us to have them around.”
Zetterberg has played in 123 Stanley Cup playoff games but said his memory often shifts back to those two series against the Penguins.
“Those playoff battles we had,” Zetterberg said, shaking his head, “I think those were very, very special battles. And now we play more often. I think it's going to be great.”
He isn't the only one.
Babcock will coach Team Canada in the Olympics and potentially could face Team USA coach Dan Bylsma for a gold medal.
It wouldn't surprise Babcock if his Red Wings met Bylsma's Penguins in May for the right to play for the silver trophy the teams have battled for twice.
“Rivalries are made in the playoffs,” Babcock said. “And you never know. We might see them in the playoffs once again.”