Saturday, June 13, 2009

#125: Penguins (Championship) Post-Mortem

---Pens Dig a Little Deeper---

Only a man who knows what it is like to be defeated can reach down to the bottom of his soul and come up with the extra ounce of power it takes to win when the match is even. -- Mohammad Ali

I was wrong. But not by much.

"Wings in Seven" was the official prediction here, albeit with a whole bunch of caveats, readily acknowledging that the Penguins had about an equal shot.

After watching six very entertaining and tightly-contested hockey games (Game Five not included, of course), I have just a few thoughts that you might not find anywhere else. If you're reading this, you probably have already read the same stuff in a bajillion different places by now.

1) A hockey fan could not have honestly asked for a more even series.

Detroit had slight edges in a lot of areas, including Shots on Goal (which you should know by now is a highly-valued statistic around here), winning the shots battle 4 out of the 7 games, winning (and in a couple of cases outright crushing) the face-off battle in 4 of the 7 contests (tied in one of the other three).

Bad calls were few, but they evened out. Non calls were numerous, but they also evened out. Hit posts/crossbars eventually evened out. And it made for one of the most exciting series in any sport this decade.

Either team could have won this series in a four-game sweep. Any of the Penguin wins could have gone to Detroit. It was, as noted a couple weeks ago, that close.

I still think that Detroit is the better team overall, but not by a margin that would constitute 2009's outcome a "fluke". The Penguins winning last season would have been just that. They weren't ready.

In this case, the Penguins were just better at the right times to put them over the edge. And with questions about the health of Hart Trophy candidate Pavel Datysuk all series long (and his absence through the first four games), a different outcome could have certainly come about.

2) The above helps to illustrate how truly even the Eastern and Western conferences were this season. The best teams in the West were better than the East's best, but their worst teams were worse, too.

This equates to better overall teams in the West, but more battle testing in the East.

Goals scored, shots taken...a myriad of statistics over an 82-game regular season were very close between both of hockey's hemispheres.

Having a Game 7 come down to the final seconds between the each conference's best was not just intoxicating to behold, it was almost inevitable.

3) To Penguin fans: Just as in my Superbowl XLIII post, prepare for the fallout.

For many Detroit fans, losing this series would be akin to the Steelers losing a Superbowl to a team that was viewed as vastly inferior, but, in reality, pretty close.

The talk of referee favoritism and/or Commissioner interference will abound.

Do not respond to the Clueless. You only fuel their fire and increase your own blood pressure.

And we should have plenty of practice at this as Pittsburgh fans. The Clueless in Seattle and Arizona (and probably, more commonly, Steeler haters) have been trying to illegitimize championships for a few years now, all told.

This is no different, and all their ranting and railing will not make their claims of shenanigans true.


Concentrate on the sporadic analytical and grudgingly complimentary posts you see on message boards.

4) In what I view to be a full validation of a post eleven months ago in which I said Mike Lange belongs in radio despite a multitude of fans who want him back in television, I give you this:

If Mike Lange were no longer on the radio side, this championship call would have been made by Paul Steigerwald. I say again that Steigerwald is a fine announcer, but he's viewed by most as "that other guy" who calls Penguins games (even though most people know his name).

Steigerwald's broadcast season ended after the Conference semi-finals as Versus and NBC had exclusive rights of the Conference and Cup Final rounds.

And with the NHL broadcasts available online for free, sometimes streaming live if you can find them, a large contingent of Pens fans can enjoy at least one more Cup-winning call from the legendary broadcaster.

If Lange were paid on radio what he'd be paid on TV, I'm sure he would be more than happy to stay on the radio side.

5) I am anxious to see what the future holds for these Penguins.

I do know that if the Penguins had qualified for the playoffs while Michel Therrien was at the team's helm, it would have been only barely.

Dan Bylsma's forechecking, puck-possession, pucks-to-the-net system was the difference, and this team was able to win it all after having about four months to practice it.

They were able to topple the mighty Detroit Red Wings by beating them at their own game...a game they have been playing for years.

The Penguins already had top-notch talent, but it was not even close to enough to overcome Detroit's system in 2008.

Now, Pittsburgh has top-notch talent, and a top-notch system.

With more practice, and the ability of general manager Ray Shero to keep the core of the team together, we could be looking at the next great dynasty in professional hockey.


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