Henrik Zetterberg is tied with Sidney Crosby in playoff points heading into the final. (Photo by Tom Turrill/NHLI via Getty Images)
DETROIT - Let the party begin!
Without question this year’s Stanley Cup final is the most anticipated championship series since 1994 when the Rangers exorcized their demons and won their first title in 54 years, beating Vancouver in a seven-game nail-biter.
And with all due respect to Tampa Bay, Carolina and Anaheim – all very deserving Stanley Cup titlists – it is great and decidedly refreshing to be in a city that embraces hockey. In the past couple of finals, the only time you felt real Stanley Cup fever was in Calgary, Edmonton and Ottawa. Please hold the letters…I was there.
But enough with geography.
With the beginning of the final series, the spotlight now falls on each team’s individual players as much as it does on the teams themselves. And with each game, we get closer to knowing who’ll win the Conn Smythe Trophy for being judged most valuable player in the playoffs.
Here are my leading candidates (presented alphabetically):
Sidney Crosby, Pittsburgh
Tied atop the scoring parade after three rounds, it may be a little concerning to some that he has just four goals in 14 games (frankly, if I was the Wings, I’d be worried he’ll break out soon), but his 17 assists are an indication he makes those who play with him better.
Or as former NHLer Bob Errey said Friday, “When he doesn’t have the puck, he has a third-line mentality. He’s always doing something to get it back.”
That, by the way, is what separates Crosby and Evgeni Malkin.
Pavel Datsyuk, Detroit
He is not only a dependable playoff performer now, he’s one of the best.
With nine goals (all scored on the road) and 19 points in 16 games, Datsyuk has become a player you cannot afford to take your eyes off of when he’s on the ice. And, typical of all Red Wings forwards, he plays a solid two-way game.
Marc-Andre Fleury, Pittsburgh
The Penguins goaltender has come of age in this year’s playoffs. For a time this season it looked like he might lose his starter’s job to Ty Conklin, but with each passing day it is becoming abundantly clear he is worthy of being the No. 1 pick in the 2003 draft and is capable of carrying a hockey team.
He no longer wanders out of his net making low percentage plays, choosing instead to stick close to home where he has developed into a good puck-control stopper. Through three rounds he was 12-2 with a 1.70 goals-against average and .938 save percentage.
Marian Hossa, Pittsburgh
Nine seasons into his NHL career, Hossa has emerged as a bona fide scorer who doesn’t hesitate to play hard in his own end, too.
If you watched the Penguins in the first three rounds, then you know he is often the first Penguins forward back in his own zone and he has been responsible for numerous takeaways. A solid output in the final could push him ahead of the pack.
Chris Osgood, Detroit
The guy who was supposed to be the insurance in case anything happened to Dominik Hasek has paid huge dividends.
With a 10-2 record, 1.60 GAA and .931 SP he is a formidable opponent of Fleury and if he plays well, could be the difference in the series.
Henrik Zetterberg, Detroit
No surprise here. For my money he’s the Red Wings’ most complete and consistently dangerous forward. With 11 goals and 21 points in 16 games, Zetterberg is tied with Crosby for the playoff scoring lead.
A few years ago, the year he retired, Steve Yzerman told me the Red Wings were Zetterberg’s team. I see now what he meant.
May the best man win.
Mike Brophy is on the road following the Stanley Cup final and will be filing reports until a champion is crowned. To read is entries, click HERE.
Brophy, the co-author of the book Walking with Legends, is a senior writer for The Hockey News and a regular contributor on THN.com.
For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, Subscribe to The Hockey News magazine.