Thursday, May 8, 2008

NHL Blogging: Is This a Team of Destiny?

I hate to do this on the eve of the conference finals but I've looked at it several ways and the Wings just match up so well against the Stars. I know, Dallas is supposedly the kind of physical, grinding team that should give the Wings fits but that's thinking from two or three seasons ago. The Wings are a puck-possession team, true, but they're far from a finesse team since they're studded with grit up and down their bench - from Drake to McCarty but the biggest difference has been a healthy Kronwall who gives the team the kind of head-hunting defenseman they haven't had since Konstantinov. Combine it with the offensive explosion, Osgood's steady presence in net, and Turco's historic futility against the Wings and it might not be a cakewalk but this series is there for the taking.

So, I can't help but thinking about what comes next. The Cup Finals and, perhaps, the first championship since that memorable 2001~2002 campaign. Which doesn't quite have the same ring as the first Cup since 1954 but, you know, it's been a little while since this Detroit fan has dared to dream so indulge me. It certainly looks to be possible. There've been no bone-wearying trips to the West Coast this year and there won't be. And either Eastern Conference opponent looks to be beatable (The Penguins have been on a roll and I'm sure the networks would love a match-up between Crosby's Kids and the Big Red Machine with all that start power and history but as good as they've been playing I think the Flyers could pull the upset. I doubted Biron at the start of the playoffs but he's put all those misgivings to rest and more.).

But what really convinces me are the way the storylines are coming together. You see, I think that a championship is destined. Written over the course of a season and etched into the memories of the fans an indelible memory. Something that, years down the road, they can talk and share and laugh and whisper about. Every season has its quirks and twists but the ground was well-laid for a championship one when you look at it in retrospect. And this year's Wings have that look, that feel, of being something special.

It began when the season did and for the first time in recent memory the rink was only half full, the team and its continued excellence a mere afterthought. Even now no one's quite sure whether to expect another disappointment - unlike the late 90s, there aren't Red Wings flags flying from every car in the City and a hockey sweater has not suddenly become formal wear. They were Forgotten leading to a Return to Glory.

Then there's the Return of Old Veterans. You've got McCarty (And, yeah, that's still an amazing comeback from the brink of ruination right there. That alone launches a few book deals if they win the Cup.), true, but you also have Osgood. The former cup-winning goalie who lost his spot to Hasek, got claimed off waiver wires by another team and eventually worked his way back to the organization he never left and, now, has supplanted Hasek as the number one goalie. He hasn't had to steal a game yet but all he's done is win 6 straight games and post the best numbers of any goalie in the postseason. And he was the back-up goaltender heading into the year.

There's the Emergence of the Unexpected Star. Just as in years past with Holmstrom, Johan Frazen has come kicking his way into the ranks of elite players. Fun fact: Did you know he scored as many goals last round as every player on the Avalanche combined? Another fun fact: Before Game 2 of that series, the Wings hadn't had a hat trick in the postseason for the first time in six years (The last player to put up three goals? McCarty.), it took Franzen 5 days.

And that leads into the next signpost of destiny, the Rise of the Second Line Player. Franzen has been playing lights out and that draws defensive attention away from the team's best players - Datsyuk and Zetterberg (And Lidstrom...And Raffalski...and, well, okay they have a lot of good players scoring a lot of goals.) - and that's helping them do their jobs as well. It's been overshadowed by Franzen's erruption but they're not doing too shabby, either. So, the Stars Are Producing.

Even the road through the post-season has been favorable. Not only has it been bereft of any long road trips but it's been a Vanquishing of Old Rivals. It's been a tour through old foes like the Avalanche and divisional foes like the Predators that's only going to continue with the Stars and whichever team washes up against them in their potential Cup match - with the Penguins you don't have a lot of bad blood but you have the Bowman connection and with the Flyers, well, that's who the Wings beat to start their Cup run and I still hate them and their fans (And I'm betting the feeling is mutual.).

The signs, the stories, that people will be talking about for months and years to come are there. The threads are being woven together. That feeling of something special happening on the ice is in the air. And I know I shouldn't, but I can't help but dreaming those Cup dreams once more.

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