Well, dear readers, the time is upon us. The Pittsburgh Penguins vs. the Detroit Red Wings, for the right to hoist Lord Stanley's Cup. And I'm like a little kid at Christmas. I've got a ton of random thoughts I need to get out of my head before I make my prediction, so if you'll indulge me...
- Last Sunday, the Penguins finished off the Flyers in five games, and won the Prince of Wales Trophy, which is given to the winner of the NHL's Eastern Conference. Tradition says it's bad luck to touch this trophy, since the only one you're really interested in is the Stanley Cup. Pens captain Sidney Crosby made sure to recognize this superstition, keeping a good foot or so away as his picture was taken with it. Another superstition among NHL players is not to touch the Stanley Cup either, until you've won the right to do so. Touch it without winning it, legend says, and you never will. My hockey skills being what they are, I chose to ignore this custom...but I do observe a similar respect in the presence of comicdom's Harvey Awards.
- Although they're not really one of my favorite teams (in fact, call it overexposure or whatever you want, but I really don't like them very much), I'm nonetheless pretty well versed in the history of the Red Wings, thanks to several biographies I read as research for my story about Red Wing goaltender Terry Sawchuk in Old-Timey Hockey Tales. If nothing else, they're a proud organization with a lot of colorful history, so at least I can say I respect them!
- This playoff run has really been the icing on the cake for what has been a really enjoyable season of Penguins hockey for me. I still haven't sprung for the Center Ice cable package so I can watch all the games on TV (seems kinda unfair to take over the big screen from my wife 82 nights a year, considering she's the one who bought it), but I did listen to the majority of them over the internet, all of them called by the incomparable Mike Lange. And, I actually got to see a Penguins game not only in person, but in obscene luxury, as my wife worked her job connections to score us seats in a luxury box at Verizon Center for the Pens 2-1 win over the Capitals last October. Amazing food, free drinks, and a dessert cart with the biggest slice of carrot cake you've ever seen...seriously, the way rich people live is on a whole other level.
- I have a bet going with indie cartoonist and Red Wings fan Jeffery Brownfor the series...we'll both be exhibiting on Indie Island at Heroes Con in Charlotte next month, and whoever's team loses has to wear the opposing team's jersey all day Saturday!
- It blows my mind that I did this cartoon just four years ago (trust me...the Penguins really were that bad), and that just over a year ago, there was a real question as to whether or not the Penguins were going to remain in Pittsburgh or move to Kansas City. Now, here they are playing for the best trophy in all of sports. Gotta love it.
Anyway, the pick: I'm sure it comes as no surprise that I'm taking Pittsburgh. True, it's pretty difficult for me to be objective about it, but I actually think they have a pretty good chance to pull it off. These are, without question, the two best teams in the NHL this season, and that makes it hard to gauge who has the upper hand...but I think in the end, the Penguins youth, speed and depth will enable them to get the job done. The only potential for disaster I see on the Pens side of the ledger is if goalie Marc-Andre Fleury completely loses his mojo and crumbles under the pressure...but I really can't see that happening. If anything, it'll be 103-year-old Detroit goaltender Chris Osgood who cracks. I expect "The Flower" will challenge Evgeni Malkin for the Conn-Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP!
So, here's how I see it breaking down: The Penguins gain a split in the first two games in Detroit, and head back to Pittsburgh tied (or DEADLOCKED, as Joe Beninati might say) at one. Then, they win games three and four on home ice, and head back to Motown one win away. The Wings make it interesting, winning away in Game Five...but the Penguins will not be denied, and celebrate a Stanley Cup victory in front of the home crowd in Game Six. So, mark it down...it's Penguins in six.
'Course, Penguins in four'd be fine with me too.