Difficult, yes. But impossible? Hardly. And that will be proven again in the spring of 2009 when the Red Wings repeat — dare I say waltz? — as champions.
The Wings won the 2008 title, doing so handily, and it could have been much closer if budding Penguins superstar Evgeni Malkin hadn't all but melted into the ice (1 goal, 2 assists) in the final round. Pittsburgh didn't lose just because of Malkin, but had he not gone 0-0-0 in the first four games of the series, we might be talking about the potential for the Pens, not the Wings, to repeat as champs. Tough place to catch a learning curve, the finals.
Until someone removes my helmet and changes my mind, here is what I know about the 2008-09 Winged Wheels.
Nicklas Lidstrom is still the game's best defenseman, and that fact alone has Detroit in the Western Conference finals. Yes, I am fully aware that he is 38 years old, and for further comfort, I know that teammate Chris Chelios will be 47 in January. Fine, rename the stretch of road outside the Joe to ''Avenue of the Viagras.'' With Brian Rafalski and Brad Stuart in the mix, no one, not even the talented Ducks with Chris Pronger and Scott Niedermayer back there, can touch the Detroit defense.
No one in the league can approximate the diverse, dynamic talents of Detroit's top 8-9 forwards, led by the likes of Pavel Datsyuk and playoff MVP Henrik Zetterberg. Oh, and did you hear the Winged Wheels added Marian Hossa as sort of a Cup stocking-stuffer? They can score. They can defend. Overall, they top off an engineered system of puck management and control that often makes the Wings look as if they're playing on a bigger rink, while the opposition looks as if it's squeezed into playing the game in Lilliput.
Netminding is their one vulnerability, but then again, Chris Osgood hardly looked vulnerable carrying the load last spring. And why? Because of that puck management thingy the Wings do. They limit the number of chances on him, and they don't allow many quality attempts, and almost no follow-ups. Osgood and Ty Conklin, the new backup in town, are adequate stoppers, and that's all that's needed in Hockeytown right now.
True, repeatin' ain't easy. The Wings were the last to do it in '97 and '98. But it's also true that the Penguins did it in the same decade ('91 and '92). The great Oilers squads nearly rattled off five straight in the '80s, beginning in '84, but had that inexplicable blip against the Flames in '86. Had Wayne Gretzky not been sold to L.A. only weeks after the last in that Oilers series, the party might have lasted well into the '90s.
Last but not least, I have the ultimate proof that repeating is not all that hard. Right here, smack in the middle of the digital highway, my preseason predictions had the Ducks winning in '07 and the Red Wings in '08. Look it up. Yeah, right there, 2-for-2, baby. Look no further than that shameless bit of self-aggrandizement to realize that miracles really do run in pairs.
And if I miss this time? Be prepared to search the expressions, ''salary cap implications'', ''injury bugaboo'', or ''dastardly, agonizing hop of the puck at the very worst time.'' One thing is certain, the season wrap-up for the Wings will not include the expression, ''lacking in talent.'' They've got enough of that to begin talk now about a possible threepeat.
Q: Which teams have absolutely no chance of winning the Cup this season?
— Chris Denton from Philadelphia
A: Ah, Chris, you want the Sad Sack Division, one that Flyers fans knew all to well in the early '90s. Truly a horrible place to be, isn't it?
Every season it's pretty easy to identify at least three squads in each conference that don't have a prayer. So let's do it here, and we'll label them the Sorrowful Six Pack.
East: The Islanders — I like their new coach, Scott Gordon, but the net looks empty for the Fishermen.
The Panthers — How soon before the sun sets for good in Sunrise?
The Maple Leafs — Jeff Finger was the big offseason acquisition. Or was it Rollie Fingers?
West: The Kings — Kids, kids, kids. Pain, pain, pain.
The Blues — Didn't jell last year. Won't jell this year.
The Canucks — Different parts, worse results.
PHT: Tuukka Rask has frustrated the Blackhawks to the tune of a 1.22 GAA and .959 save percentage in the Stanley Cup Final. Can Chicago find any luck in Game 4?
2008 Stanley Cup finals
Images from Red Wings-Penguins series
Video: NHL from NBC Sports
Rask credits a team effort on defense
Without the need for an overtime period, the Bruins won Game 3 over the Blackhawks, 2-0. Bruins coach Claude Julien credits Tuukka Rask for his preparation and extreme focus, while Rask appreciates the guys in front of him covering their ice and blocking shots.
Check out photos from the Kings' Stanley Cup victory parade in LA.
Stanley Cup playoffs
Check out photos from the NHL postseason action.
Stanley Cup winners
A look at the teams that have earned the right to hoist Lord Stanley's prize since 1965.
Some of Hollywood's hottest celebrities take in NHL games.
Check out the ice girls from around the National Hockey League.