Deja vu; Penguins, Wings look for third Stanley Cup finals trip
Sidney Crosby nestled into a chair at a New York hotel at the end of the busiest summer of his young life.
The latest in a list of countless interviews and guest appearances was taking place, and the youngest captain of a Stanley Cup champion couldn’t have been happier.
Oh, how different this year is from last.
Crosby and the Pittsburgh Penguins avenged a loss in the 2008 finals by rallying from a 3-2 series deficit and wresting the Stanley Cup away from the champion Red Wings in Detroit in a stirring Game 7.
That helped erase the sting of the previous year when the Red Wings celebrated following a Game 6 victory in Pittsburgh.
“The mood was a lot better,” the 22-year-old Crosby said in his typical understated fashion. “It was a pretty tough summer sitting on a loss in the finals and not knowing when I was going to get the chance to get back there or if it would ever happen.
“I am really happy we were able to get back there and finish it off right this time.”
Don’t be surprised if these two powerhouses go for a three-peat in a rubber match next June.
“For both teams to get there in back-to-back years, it’s amazing. It really is,” Crosby said. “Both teams kind of defied the odds in getting back there, but now both have to try to do it again. You have these high expectations when you go that far and everybody wants to beat you. So it just gets tougher.”
While Washington’s Alex Ovechkin basks in the glow of back-to-back MVP awards, Crosby will try to take their personal rivalry to a new level this season with a repeat championship.
The Capitals likely pose the biggest threat in the Eastern Conference to Pittsburgh’s return to the finals. With a lineup that boasts Ovechkin, the NHL leader in goals each of the past two seasons, fellow forwards Nicklas Backstrom and Alexander Semin, and high-scoring defenseman Mike Green on the back end, Washington is looking to make its big splash in the playoffs.
Ovechkin forced Crosby and the Penguins to a Game 7 in the second round, but couldn’t seal the deal.
The Boston Bruins figure to have something to say about who comes out of the East as they try to build off a season in which they surprisingly vaulted from the No. 8 playoff seed in 2008 to No. 1 in 2009.
While goalie Tim Thomas (Vezina Trophy), defenseman Zdeno Chara (Norris Trophy) and Claude Julien (coach of the year) were honored individually, the Bruins were stung by a second-round playoff loss to Carolina – a Game 7 defeat at home after they rallied from being down 3-1 in the series.
The San Jose Sharks can relate.
They posted the best record in the NHL and their best in team history, before bowing out early – again. The Sharks couldn’t even get out of the first round, falling quickly to Pacific Division-rival Anaheim.
General manager Doug Wilson was angry and didn’t sit back. In a big move just before the season, the Sharks plucked disgruntled star forward Dany Heatley from Ottawa in a blockbuster move that sent forwards Jonathan Cheechoo and Milan Michalek to the Senators.
It is critical that the Sharks get the guy who has scored 50 goals in a season and not the one who publicly talked his way out of Ottawa. One thing San Jose forward Joe Thornton and the rest of the remaining Sharks can feel good about is that big Anaheim defensemen Chris Pronger (Philadelphia) and Francois Beauchemin (Toronto) have moved on to the Eastern Conference.
Detroit, with its fine mix of champion veteran players and up-and-coming kids, is still the team to beat out West – even if just on reputation.
“We all understand how long the journey is,” Red Wings coach Mike Babcock said. “It’s a marathon and we’re just focused on getting out of the gate. The first 20 games is what we’re always talking about.
“We’re fortunate that we’ve got a real good core, so we’ve still got a chance to win. It’s not like these teams are going away. They’re going to be back and they’re going to try to get themselves into better positions this year.”
While it’s fun to talk in September about might happen in May and June, the NHL season has much to offer before it even gets to the playoffs.
The Philadelphia Flyers will meet the Bruins outside in the Winter Classic in Boston’s Fenway Park on New Year’s Day, just more than a month before the league takes its two-week hiatus for the Winter Olympics.
This one carries even more significance than usual because the Olympics will be held in the NHL city of Vancouver, and might be the last that features pro players. Collective bargaining will determine that in the coming years.
Now it’s time to drop the puck.
SID VS. ALEX: The rivalry between Pittsburgh’s Crosby and Washington’s Ovechkin sure looks good and heated in various TV promotions and billboard-like advertisements. But does it really exist?
That all depends on whom you ask.
“Circumstances kind of make those rivalries,” said Crosby, who captained the Penguins to the Stanley Cup title last season. “For us individually, yeah, I think there is, but there is always a bigger story line. People are always looking for that. As a player I don’t think I get caught up in it too much. That’s just the world we live in.”
They both entered the NHL in the 2005-06 season. Crosby put up 39 goals and 102 points, and Ovechkin countered with 52 goals and 106 points to capture rookie of the year honors.
Crosby, at age 20, came back the next season with an NHL-best 120 points and was named MVP. Since then, Ovechkin has had the upper hand. He earned his first scoring title during the 2007-08 season with 65 goals and 112 points, garnering the first of his two MVP awards. Last year, Ovechkin scored 56 goals and 110 points.
Head to head they both posted a hat trick in Game 2 of last season’s second series – a game won 4-3 by the Capitals. The Penguins got the final say with a Game 7 win in Washington.
The only thing Ovechkin is missing now is his name on the Stanley Cup. Crosby and Ovechkin’s Russian countryman Evgeni Malkin already crossed that one off their list with the Penguins.
Malkin won the scoring title in both the regular season and playoffs.
“No. It’s the Capitals and Pittsburgh. It’s not about me and those two guys. Well, the league has to make some money,” Ovechkin said when asked if a personal rivalry brews.
Capitals coach Bruce Boudreau sees something very similar in both stars, which in itself could be the source of these one-on-one clashes.
“I don’t know if I see that rivalry as much as the media builds it up to be,” Boudreau said. “I know our guy is highly, highly competitive. I assume their guy is very much the same. That’s what makes you go down in history in any sport.
“You talk about the great, great ones … they will all have that one trait that they wanted to win at all costs. I think both of them have it.”
CITIZEN KANE: Chicago Blackhawks forward Patrick Kane has been answering more questions about a brush with the law in New York than the meteoric rise of his team that reached the Western Conference finals last season.
With the legal issues mostly behind him, the 20-year-old Kane is trying to repair his reputation.
“It was tough but at the same time I am trying to take the positives out of a bad situation and move forward,” the 2008 NHL rookie of the year said. “Maybe it’s better that it happened sooner rather than later. Maybe you find out who your true friends are.
“That one situation maybe was a little bit overblown, but you can’t control that. You’ve just got to go out and control what you can whether it’s on the ice or off the ice. Yes, you want to create a better personal image, but at the same time you have to just keep doing what you do on the ice and just really enjoy playing in the NHL.”
Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews, Kane’s friend, quickly let Kane know his teammates were behind him.
“We know people are going to sit there and watch and say stuff and see how Patrick Kane is at the start of the season,” Toews said. “It is unfortunate all that stuff happened … and because of it there is going to be a little bit of added pressure. We just want him to come in and play his way.”
COMINGS AND GOINGS: The Phoenix Coyotes will remain in Arizona at least for one more season, but their future is unknown as the courts try to figure out who will eventually own the club. The legal wrangling has already led to the resignation of coach Wayne Gretzky, who stepped down Thursday and was replaced by former Dallas coach Dave Tippett. Tippett is one of seven coaches in different places since the end of last season. … Chris Pronger, now of the Philadelphia Flyers, is joining his fourth team since 2004. “You know who else got traded a lot?” Pronger asked, deadpanning, “Wayne Gretzky.” The 6-foot-6 defenseman then flashed a smile and said, “That’s how you answer that.”
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