Although the issue has yet to be resolved, the Detroit Red Wings and Pittsburgh Penguins have each answered some tough questions after splitting the first six games of the Stanley Cup final.
Some corners mused the Wings might be a little too long in the tooth to compete with the youthful Pens, but Detroit has shown that tooth has plenty of bite left.
Last year’s whipping boy in Pittsburgh, Evgeni Malkin, has shone this time around, leading a squad that refuses to be intimidated by the defending champs.
But with the Stanley Cup still hanging in the balance, there are obviously some industrial-sized queries yet to be accounted for. With that in mind, we present seven burning questions to be played out during the decisive game on what will surely be a rockin’ Friday night in Detroit.
Can Sidney Crosby have the game of his life? He’ll need it to fight through the checking of Henrik Zetterberg. And with the advantage of last change, Detroit coach Mike Babcock will once again have the ability to choke Crosby’s creativity by sicking his hounding Swede after him.
That said, competing on the mythical landscape provided by Game 7 of a championship series, Crosby has an opportunity to traverse the path from superstar to legend. He’s already ousted his archrival Alex Ovechkin with a monster performance in the second round. Now, there’s an opportunity to cement his place among hockey’s all-time elite.
Crosby has three points in this series. If he can match that total in a monster Game 7 before accepting the Cup from Gary Bettman, he’ll have already proven everything anyone could have asked of him before turning 22.
Can Marian Hossa put forth one truly impactful game during this final? When Pavel Datsyuk was sidelined in the conference final, Hossa came alive. He was Detroit’s best forward in the final two wins over Chicago and seemed ready to haunt his former team with a final flourish.
But the man deemed to be Benedict Arnold in Steeltown has yet to find the back of the net on the big stage, prompting a teammate on my summer hockey team to ask, “Is it more insulting for the Pens if they lose and Hossa isn’t a factor, because then it’s like Detroit didn’t even need him to win?”
Well, maybe Detroit doesn’t require an offensively productive Hossa to swipe the Cup, but the Wings have a much better chance of being drenched in champagne if ‘Big Hoss’ can come through with one game where he dominates in deep with his size and skill.
Which goalie blinks? Both Chris Osgood and Marc-Andre Fleury have carried their teams at times, though Fleury has had a hiccup or two.
Osgood has answered the bell – which has rung a little more often than in previous Cup runs by Detroit – every time he’s been asked this spring. His calmness and experience gives Detroit a slight edge in goal in this winner-take-all scenario.
Can the road team win a game this series? Pittsburgh has already won a Game 7 on the road this post-season, burying the Caps in Washington to win that second round stare down.
Obviously the task of beating Detroit is a different beast. Line matching has been huge in this series and the Wings will benefit from last change in Game 7. It’s up to every Pen – not just Crosby – to fight through unfavorable opposing faces and find a way to be the first victorious visitor in this final.
Can one of Pittsburgh’s supplementary skill players step up? Bill Guerin and Chris Kunitz have two assists all series between them; Ruslan Fedotenko hasn’t scored since Game 1; and Petr Sykora drew back into the lineup because Miroslav Satan wasn’t doing much of anything.
The Tyler Kennedys and Max Talbots of western Pennsylvania have done more than their share; now, in a one-game showdown, the Pens need a boost from their background talent.
Master or grasshopper? Everybody knows Pens coach Dan Bylsma played for Babcock when the latter coached Anaheim to Game 7 of the 2003 Cup final. Bylsma lists Babcock as one of the five men he’s taken the most from en route to his current position.
We know Babcock has the last-change ace in his back pocket, but that doesn’t mean Bylsma can’t out-fox him with different looks and line combos.
Ultimately, the players decide these tiffs, but don’t underestimate the necessity for each coach to pull the right strings.
Who wins the Conn Smythe? To the victor go the spoils, so we’ll assume the guy who wins playoff MVP will also be getting a Cup ring. Not to be a brown-noser, but I’ll agree with my boss: Barring a huge Game 7 by Zetterberg, Osgood takes the trophy if Detroit wins, while Malkin is the most precious post-season performer should Pittsburgh snag the Cup.
THN Shootout: Who has goaltending edge in Game 7?
From the road in Pittsburgh, host Ken Campbell talks with THN editor in chief Jason Kay and writer Ryan Kennedy about which team will have the net edge in the finale.
Ryan Dixon is a writer and copy editor for The Hockey News magazine, the co-author of the book Hockey’s Young Guns and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog appears Thursday and his column, Top Shelf, appears Wednesday.
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