Eighty-two games is a long season and can be a grind at times. The hard work that you and your teammates put in throughout the regular season is all worth it, however, to be able to play for a chance at winning hockey's holy grail. When you reach the cup finals you can never take that experience and opportunity for granted. Dozens of former players look back at the one or two opportunities they had to play at this time of year and wish they had just one more chance. As a player I never stopped appreciating each chance I received to play in the finals. As an avid fan today, I am reminded of the excitement and flurry of emotions of playing for the league title. Here are the top 5 reasons I can't wait to watch the entire Stanley Cup Finals series...
You hope that at this time of the year the finals matches up the best and most deserving team in each conference. I can say without qualification that this holds true of the finals match up this time around. Not surprisingly, Detroit remained a Western Conference powerhouse this season, and continued to dominant in this year's playoffs. Pittsburgh rode a more volatile roller coaster on route to the postseason. Credit Dan Bylsma for bringing the team together towards the end of the year.
Regardless of their regular season performances, both teams are at the top of their games right now, which is exactly what fans of competitive ice hockey want to see. Hockey fans can also appreciate the opportunity to see the two most talented teams in the NHL competing for the Stanley Cup. The Stanley Cup Finals should be played between the most talented and hottest teams, which is exactly what we have in the Red Wings vs. Penguins series.
My NYR ring from '94 carries the engraved expression
They say that memories last a lifetime. That is absolutely true. But what last perhaps even longer are the keepsakes. When you win the cup there are two different mementos that you receive: A Stanley Cup Ring, and a Miniature Stanley Cup Trophy. As you can imagine, those are two of the most prized possessions that any professional player can own.
I have seven miniature trophies. Six of my trophies are mini-cups, and one is a mini Clarence Campbell trophy for playing in the 1992-1993 conference finals with the Maple Leafs. The great thing about the replicas is that they are specific to your team. Engraved on them are the names of every member of the organization. These awards are not only a proof of your accomplishments, but a proof of your teammates and those who battled with you.
The player ring is the memento that people know best. Here's something that you may not have known. When we were in Edmonton we started a trend that the players designed the rings. Gretz, Messier, and Lowe were the artists behind the designs of the Oilers rings. My ring from the Rangers has "1940", representing the last time New York had won the cup until our win in 1994. The Rangers ring also has the line "Heave-Ho" engraved on it. Eddie Olcyzk headed up the stretch before every game and would yell that expression at the end of the stretches.
The NHL did a good job tightening the delay between series.
The NHL had planned to play Game 1 of the finals on June 5, but after two very quick conference finals, the league decided not to delay the next round. Kudos to the league for making this prudent decision. Consider that these players have already extended their seasons by nearly 2 months. They are banged up, tired, and sore. They want to win the cup, celebrate, and go home! Keeping the Stanley Cup Finals so close to the conference finals keeps the players in their postseason rhythm. It's this rhythm [as well as a little inspiration] that's keeping them going strong right now...
This series showcases many talented players, but perhaps none more talented and CONSISTENT than Henrik Zetterberg and Sidney Crosby. Like they did in the first two games of this series, the two centre-men will go head to head in every on-ice battle. Whoever gets the best of this matchup will give his team a much better opportunity to win. You may ask, "What about Evgeni Malkin?" Geno is a terrific talent. But he is not as consistent right now as Crosby. Malkin is the X factor. When he shows up to play the Penguins have a much better chance.
Sidney Crosby has a chance that may never come again.
Many have taken note that this finals marks the first time since the 1984 Stanley Cup that two teams have had a rematch of the previous year's series. The New York Islanders swept our Edmonton team in '82-'83. Billy Smith was named playoff MVP that year. I won't forget Game 1 of our rematch one year later. The game was memorable because it was so competitive and close. Kevin McClelland scored our only goal, and we beat the Islanders 1-0. We went on to win the series 4-1, and many would say that was the start of the Oilers "dynasty."
That Oilers team reminds me of the Penguins team today. Just as we had Wayne Gretzky and Mark Messier down middle, the Pens have Crosby and Malkin. We were a bunch of 23 year old kids at the time (The "Magnificent 7" they called us.) Now Crosby, Malkin, and Fleury are all around the same age. These young players have a chance to win this year, and that opportunity can't be taken for granted. Could this be the start of the Pittsburgh dynasty? Time will tell, as will the rest of the series...
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