Red Wings ready for a rematch with Pens
DETROIT — Weary, not wary.
That's how the Detroit Red Wings enter their Stanley Cup final against the Penguins, the first rematch of the National Hockey League championship series in a quarter century.
After earning a return trip to the Cup final with a 2-1 overtime victory over the Chicago Blackhawks on Wednesday night in Game 5 of the Western Conference final at Joe Louis Arena, the Red Wings professed to be ready for another round with a Penguins team that took them to six games before falling in the final last year.
The first two games of the Stanley Cup final will be played here this weekend. Game 1 is at 8 p.m. Saturday, followed by Game 2 at a time to be determined Sunday. The short turnaround gives the Red Wings precious little time to recover from a conference final series that saw three overtimes in the past four games.
"(The Penguins) know what they experienced — or didn't experience — last year, so they have some motivation in that regard," Detroit defenseman Brad Stuart said. "We know what it feels like to win and we want to experience that again. We have that motivation. Each team is going to have different things that they're going to be thinking about that's going to motivate them. In the end, it's going to come down to who wants it more."
Detroit had to dig deep to beat Chicago, as center Darren Helm scored the game-winner at three minutes, 58 seconds of the extra period. The Red Wings won the series, 4-1, despite playing the past two games without six-time Norris Trophy winner in defenseman Nickas Lidstrom and the past three without Hart Trophy finalist in center Pavel Datsyuk.
The Penguins swept the Carolina Hurricanes, 4-0, in the Eastern final.
While the Red Wings are taking their opponent seriously, they are putting the pressure on themselves to perform like the reigning NHL champion, one that has won four Cup titles since 1997 and 11 in franchise history.
"It doesn't matter what anyone says, whether we're the underdogs or favorites or anywhere in-between," left wing Kirk Maltby said. "For us it's about going out and playing our game. (The Penguins) are playing extremely well. People say that they're probably better than they were last year, so we can't worry about what they're going to do or how they've played up until this point to get themselves back to the finals. We worry about ourselves."
What neither team will be worrying about are the inevitable comparisons to the Cup finals between the N.Y. Islanders and Edmonton Oilers in the early 1980s, the most recent rematch of a championship series. The Islanders won their fourth consecutive Cup at the expense of the Oilers in 1983, but Edmonton rebounded to win the first of its five Cup titles in '84.
"There's going to be a lot of new storylines played out in the next couple days, but for us it's another chance to win the Stanley Cup," Stuart said. "It's kind of a rare occurrence (to have a rematch). If you would have asked me if that was going to happen, I would have said, 'No.' It's great for the league, though."
The Red Wings realize they won't be facing the same team they shut out in the first two games of the 2008 final. For one, forward Marian Hossa snubbed the Penguins' long-term offer to sign a one-year deal with Detroit, giving the Red Wings another sniper to add to their offensive arsenal.
Then again, even without Hossa the Penguins boast the league's top two playoff scorers in Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby, who have 28 points each. And they bear little resemblance to the team that was five points out of playoff contention before a mid-February coaching change saw Dan Bylsma replace Michel Therrien.
"I think it's that way with all good teams, they find a way to win and find a way to get back on top," Detroit defenseman Niklas Kronwall said. "Right now, they're playing solid hockey. They've got four good lines, six solid defensemen and a hot goaltender. They've got Crosby and Malkin — how can you not mention those guys?
"I think they've come a long way, to be honest with you. I think they're playing better and better with each series. I think (the Cup final) was a great experience for them. Of course they wanted to win it, but what happened, happened and I'm sure they learned a lot. They're looking very strong this year."
The Red Wings were cautious not to admit that they anticipated a rematch — a common them in their dressing room was, who could predict such a thing• — but they insisted that they have respect for the Penguins in this Cup final.
"They got off to a slow start. They fired a coach. I don't know if it was turmoil there, but obviously they turned their season around," Maltby said. "It's all about jelling at the right time, and that's what they did with their down-the-stretch drive. They're playing about as well as anybody."
Anybody, the Red Wings hope, except for them.