If you are any kind of hockey fan, then tonight is the biggest night of the year. Tonight is the biggest hockey night since June 17, 2006. "Why?" you ask. Simple - tonight is the first time since 2006 that the Stanley Cup Finals have reached Game 7.Since the adoption of the 7 game series in the 1938-39 season, the finals have only gone to a 7th game 13 times! That means in the 69 years of best-of-7 play, the winner was determined in less than seven games over 80% of the time! The odds of seeing a seventh game are less than one in five!*
Given the limited occurrence of the seventh game, this year's Stanley Cup Final will be dramatic in itself. The rarity of a single game effectively determining the best professional hockey team in the world (or North America at least) will undoubtedly draw viewers. Creating a Superbowl atmosphere is a difficult task in a sport often described as "niche" by the American media. Luckily tonight's game is doing just that. Knowing that this final game will truly put the teams in a winner-take-all situation adds to its intensity. Two teams will enter and one will leave hoisting the oldest sporting trophy in the world.
What great and deserving teams they are too. The Pittsburgh Penguins are one of the league's oldest franchises after joining in the initial expansion of 1967. Over the years they managed to acquire some big-time stars. Mario Lemieux, Jaromir Jagr, Ron Francis, Larry Murphy, and Paul Coffey were all part of the Penguins back-to-back Stanley Cup champion teams in 1991 and 1992.
Today the team is anchored by stars Evgeni Malkin, Jordan Staal, Marc-Andre Fleury, and Sidney Crosby, the league's most well-known player. All were part of Pittsburgh's third trip to the Stanley Cup finals last year and fought hard before succumbing the Redwings in game 6. Joining them this year is Slovakian star Miroslav Satan. Thus far the reconfigured Pens have proved that they are a legitimate, even if young, team. Taking the defending Stanley Cup champions to a seventh game is impressive to say the least. When that team is the Detroit Redwings, that feat is unspeakable.
Lindsay. Abel. Howe. Sawchuck. Yzerman. Larionov. Fedorov. Lidstrom. Osgood. Zetterberg. Datsyuk. What do these players have in common? They are but a few of the names etched onto the Stanley Cup under the Detroit Redwings.
As an "Original Six" team, it is not surprising that Detroit has hoisted the Cup 10 times after 22 visits to the finals. Sure most of the victories came in the pre-expansion era (1967), but things have turned around for the storied club. Ending a drought that started after losing to the Montreal Canadians in 1966, the Wings made their return to the finals in 1995 where they were promptly swept by the New Jersey Devils in four games.
This loss sparked the Wings who won the President's Trophy the following year only to be blocked from the finals by the Colorado Avalanche. In 1997, the Wings found revenge by defeating the President's Trophy winning Avs to reach the Stanley Cup finals for the second time in three years. Unlike their last visit, the Wings swept the series by beating the Philadelphia Flyers in four games.
A second modern era Cup was won the following year, but the Wings would have to wait until 2002 to win a third. Steve Yzerman, a 1983 draft pick who had spent his entire career in Detroit, captained the team to all three Cups. He retired in 2006. After his number was retired by the team on January 2, 2007, Nicklas Lidtrom led the team to yet another Cup. Winning in six games over the Penguins showed Yzerman's understudy had the heart and determination to lead the team.
Of course the question remains who will win the Cup? Will Detroit repeat and establish themselves as a neo-dynasty? Will the upstart Pens finally help Crosby establish credibility as a true superstar by winning the Cup? Regardless we are in for one heck of a ride tonight! My prediction is that Detroit will continue the spirit of this series and win at home in regulation. I'm curious to know your thoughts...*The Cup was won after 7 Games in: 1942, 1944, 1949 (Detroit), 1954 (Detroit), 1955 (Detroit), 1964, 1965, 1971, 1986, 1994, 2003, 2004, 2006. There was no Stanley Cup Finals series in 2005 due to the NHL lockout of the 2004-05 season.