If you’re looking for a difference in this series, start here. Pittsburgh’s foot soldiers won the puck battles, owned the boards, cycled with control and authority.
Detroit’s senior citizens on the lower lines, Kris Draper and Kirk Maltby, simply had too many miles on the odometer to consistently deliver the same sort of goods.
Like Wayne Gretzky and Mark Messier of those Edmonton Oiler teams of the mid-1980s — the last losing finalist to rebound to win the Cup the next spring prior to the Penguins — the superstars arrived first. But it wasn’t until Edmonton surrounded the studs with a solid foundation that a fortress was put into place.
The Penguins showed the hockey world they’d clearly grown up.
“As a young group, the team that’s been put together here, we’ve probably accelerated that learning curve more than a lot of people thought,” Crosby said.
Even the owner stepped up when duty called.
“He’s been so great for us and done so much for Pittsburgh and especially on this run,” Crosby said of Lemieux. “He was around us a lot. It was really nice to have him be part of things ... Even after that last loss (5-0 setback in Game 5), he was right down there, encouraging guys.”
En route to victory, the Penguins appeared to be channeling the 1971 Montreal Canadiens, the previous road team to win Game 7 of the Cup finals.
Montreal rallied from a 2-0 deficit to beat the Black Hawks 3-2 at Chicago Stadium in Game 7. That’s also the only Cup finals in which the home teams won each of the first six games, but the visiting team took Game 7. Like the Penguins (Dan Bylsma), those Habs also had a rookie coach who took over in mid-season (Al MacNeil) and won a previous Game 7 on the road — at Washington in the second round. Montreal was also the only team to win the Cup after dropping the first two games of the final series on the road.
Like those 1971 Canadiens, Pittsburgh looked nothing like a contender during the regular season. As late as February, the Penguins were 10th overall in the Eastern Conference, costing coach Michel Therrien his job.
Emulating the Habs, a dynasty of the past, Penguins may be positioned to put together a run of success similar to the Wings, the team they dethroned and launch a dynastic run of their own.
“We’ve gotten this far because of the way we’ve played together,” Crosby said.
Like a true team in every sense of the word.
The best team.
The Stanley Cup champions.
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Stanley Cup finals
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Rask credits a team effort on defense
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Stanley Cup finals on NBC
Pittsburgh Penguins defeat Detroit Red Wings 4-3