June 05, 2008

2008: Veteran Red Wings Knock Off Upstarts Crosby, Penguins

The year is 2008. Despite finishing the regular season as the runaway points champion, and despite have the best defensive record and incredible amounts of experience, the Detroit Red Wings are somewhat of a surprise Stanley Cup winner.

Very few of the so called experts expected the Red Wings to make it to the finals. Perhaps it is the Wings' recent spotty playoff history, or perhaps it was a lack of faith in goaltenders Dominik Hasek and Chris Osgood, but most experts thoughts Detroit would falter somewhere along the way.

But they did not. Most expected them to beat the surprising Nashville Predators in round one, and they did. The Wings had no problems with their old rivals from Colorado in round two. And the Wings dominated the Dallas Stars in round three. The Stars looked exhausted after slaying the two teams that most picked to win the Western Conference title, Anaheim and San Jose.

Much was made of the Wings advanced age, with the likes of Hasek, Osgood, Chris Chelios, Kris Draper, Tomas Holmstrom and Kirk Maltby present. But this championship was very much led by the younger generation of Wings, specifically Henrik Zetterberg, Pavel Datsyuk, and surprise scoring sensation Johan "Mule" Franzen. Role player Dan Cleary became the first Newfoundlander to win the Stanley Cup.

Osgood was one key veteran through the playoffs, taking over from starter Dominik Hasek early in the playoffs and playing solidly while posting spectacular numbers.

The other key veteran was rearguard Nicklas Lidstrom, who at 37 was still the best defenseman in the game. He became the first European to captain a Stanley Cup championship team. Lidstrom would call that feat one of his greatest accomplishments. He was happily surrounded by 10 other regular European players on this Red Wings team, the most of any Stanley Cup champion in history.

The Conn Smythe trophy went to Zetterberg, who not only led the Wings in scoring but served as a key shutdown forward. He was often used head to head against Sidney Crosby.

The Red Wings faced off against the Pittsburgh Penguins in the finals, marking the Stanley Cup finals debut of several stars, most notably Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. The series hype was full of intrigue as the Wings experience was pitted against the raw, unbridled but uninitiated Penguins. In the end it turned out to be a bit anti-climatic, though the Pens dramatic triple overtime win in game 5 made the series memorable.

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