“Overmatched? Pens Say They're Ready for Red Wings”
By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
PITTSBURGH (AP) -- The Pittsburgh Penguins will travel Friday to the city called Hockeytown for their second Stanley Cup finals in as many seasons against Detroit, yet forgive them if they're convinced they already live there.
Their games are drawing NFL playoff-like ratings in the Pittsburgh market -- a 27.1 on little-watched cable channel Versus for Game 4 of the Eastern Conference finals against Carolina, or 5 1/2 times the ratings in Raleigh, N.C.
While there were empty seats in recession-ravaged Detroit for Red Wings home games, the last 115 Penguins home games in the NHL's oldest arena were sellouts. Giant banners bearing the pictures of stars Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin hang from the girders of the new arena being built across the street from Mellon Arena.
Yes, the Penguins appear to have everything going for them -- momentum from a conference finals sweep, two of the league's best players in high gear and the kind of fervent support that franchises in some higher-profile sports wish they had.
There's only one thing missing: a Stanley Cup, at least one of more recent vintage than those won by the Mario Lemieux-led Penguins of 1991 and 1992.
The Red Wings have raised the Cup four times since then, and the NHL's most polished and reliable group of winners gave the Penguins an instructional lesson in what it takes to be a champion last spring. The Penguins had lost only two games in three playoff rounds before being dominated during 4-0 and 3-0 losses that opened the finals in Detroit, and they never recovered before losing in six games.
''It was kind of a shell shock,'' defenseman Rob Scuderi said Thursday.
''We were watching too much. We were waiting to see what it was going to be like and, by that time, it was too late,'' Crosby said.
The Penguins remember how frustrating it felt to realize they weren't quite good enough, and they're convinced the experience of losing in the finals was the best possible preparation for winning it this time.
''We have that confidence in the dressing room that we've been through it, and it's a great feeling,'' forward Max Talbot said. ''I think we'll be ready for them.''
Pittsburgh appears to own several important advantages over the beaten-up Red Wings. The Penguins are relatively healthy, Malkin and Crosby are rolling with a league-leading 28 points apiece, and goalie Marc-Andre Fleury said ''the emotion and the stress, all the stuff we didn't know'' last year are missing.
The Red Wings were missing stars Nicklas Lidstrom (2 games) and Pavel Datsyuk (3 games) for part of the Western Conference finals against Chicago, though they're hoping both will return for Game 1 on Saturday.
Even if they don't, the Red Wings are the Red Wings, and the Penguins knew from the moment they lost to them a year ago they'd probably have to beat Detroit to prove they indeed are the best.
''Watching their Game 4 against Chicago where they won 6-1, I don't know if we want to say we were laughing at the situation, but it was something we went through last year,'' defenseman Brooks Orpik said. ''You can try to run them out of the building, be physical on them, but they're skilled guys ... and tough. They just play the game.''
The question is whether the Red Wings are playing it at the same level they were last year. They've added Marian Hossa, who defected from Pittsburgh after last season, but injuries are cutting into their skill and depth (Kris Draper, Andreas Lilja).
And in Detroit, the Red Wings are wondering if controlling Rick Nash of Columbus and Chicago's Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews was adequate preparation for trying to slow Malkin and Crosby. Malkin had six goals and three assists in four games against Carolina; Crosby has a playoff-best 14 goals.
''Crosby and Malkin are running away with the scoring lead in the playoffs and if we let them continue to run wild, it will be hard for us to win the series,'' Detroit general manager Ken Holland said. ''You can't stop players that good, but we can't let them do what they did against Carolina.''
“Stanley Cup Rematch: Will it be like 1984 ... or 1987?”
by Dominik on May 30, 2009 12:46 PM EDT
"They knew how to win, how to play a solid defensive system that was hard to penetrate and we knew in order for us to win we had to shore up our defensive game and play tight as a team. They took things we like to do away from us.
We used them as our guide to winning hockey. We had to be tougher mentally, in the trenches, in shot blocking, in all the areas."
>>Mark Messier, on how the 1984 Stanley Cup champion Oilers adapted
after being swept by the Islanders in the 1983 finals
There is naturally a lot of talk about this year's Stanley Cup finals rematch, the first since 1984, emulating its predecessor as a possible "passing of the torch." In 1984 the Islanders famously -- and exhaustedly -- fell to the young Oilers in five games after sweeping the hotshots the year before. The Islanders' core had spent the better part of a decade logging playoff and Canada Cup (two of them) miles before all those cumulative wars in the trenches caught up with them. In a few years Potvin, Bossy, Nystrom, Arbour, and Smith were retired, the rest distributed around the league.
The comparison makes for a nice storyline, one that -- for me, at least -- makes this otherwise "same old teams" finals rematch more intriguing. But I'm not betting on the Penguins to take the torch. (I hope they do, yes sir, and I'll be rooting for the Pens and their former Isles. But my head says Detroit is still the superior team.) People forget there were other finals "rematches" in the '80s, except a year or two apart: Oilers-Flyers ('85 and '87), Flames-Canadiens ('86 and '89), and Oilers-Bruins ('88 and '90). This year's rematch reminds me more of 1987 or 1989.
These Red Wings are not about to become the late-'80s Islanders with key stars fading. Other than Nicklas Lidstrom, who is 39 (and admittedly the biggest key of all), the Wings are not exactly a group of aging veterans at the end of their run -- and Lidstrom himself is not exactly running on fumes. Other older guys like Kris Draper and Kirk Maltby (turtle) are parts of the puzzle, but ultimately quite replaceable (probably from within, given the way the Wings farm system constantly, maddeningly, churns out shiny new parts). Chris Osgood is somehow playoff money, but the Wings do not depend on him to bail them out through 16 wins.
The Penguins, meanwhile, do not remind me of the '80s Oilers -- not yet. They do have an apparently excellent coach and that two-headed superstar monster that has some of us thinking of Gretzky and Messier (albeit without the Messier snarl, guts and propensity for occasional dirty play). Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin entering their prime should keep the Pens in the conversation for the next several years, but without a further cast of Hall of Famers like the '80s Oilers (or the '90s Red Wings), I don't see a semi-dynasty in the making. Who knows? In this salary cap era, this year may actually be the Penguins' best shot at a Cup.
But that's era forecasting. The question is this year, this team: Did the returning Penguins learn enough from last year to take the Red Wings down? Is the change in Penguins personnel -- which on the surface looks weaker, but that's why they play the games -- and the change in coaches enough to push the Penguins over the top? Is the compressed schedule and the Red Wings' injuries (and remember that Crosby and Malkin seemed on fumes last spring) enough to alter what otherwise looks like a statistical matchup that favors the champs? (For some great statistical comparisons going into this series, check out these posts at On the Forecheck and From the Rink.)
We can go player by player, injury by injury, but we don't know who's going to be healthy and who's going to get hot. So while I'm rooting for the Pens to pull it off, my overall impression is that this Penguins squad will make it a great series but more likely fall short to the typical Wings dominance. If it comes down to a Game 7, I think the Wings will prevail.
In 1985, the young upstart Flyers, scared for their life led by fireball Mike Keenan to that regular season's best overall record, were handily dispatched in the finals 4-1 by the defending champion Oilers. It was men against boys, like 1983 and like 2008. But two years later, a little wiser and even more determined, the Flyers gutted out two one-goal victories to force a Game 7 for the 1987 Stanley Cup in Edmonton. Rookie Ron Hextall even won the Conn Smythe in the losing effort. But the dynastic Oilers took home the real prize.
With Crosby and Malkin, who would be surprised by an epic, series-altering individual performance? But barring a few of those or further Wings injuries, my hunch is this series will turn out less like 1984 and more like 1987 -- a fantastic series that went to the reigning giants of the era.
NBA 2009: Lakers vs. Magic No, it is not Kobe versus LeBron, instead it will be Bryant squaring off against another Olympic teammate, Dwight Howard. Either way, online bookmaker Sportsbook.com likes Kobe's chances as the Lakers are listed as a -280 money line favorite to win the championship in their Magic vs Lakers Series Odds 2009 NBA Finals.
The Orlando Magic always seem to be the odd man out, or odd team out in this case. For some reason they were viewed as inferior to the Cavaliers and now they are being regarded as the lesser team in the NBA Finals. The Lakers, no doubt, know better than to view the Magic as a push-over, especially considering the fact that they have lost to Orlando three of the last four times they have played them.
Orlando has been nothing but impressive in the Playoffs, fighting off a scrappy 76ers squad in the first round 4-2 before beating the defending champions 4-3 and the league's No.1 seed 4-2. For the post-season, they are averaging 98.5 points per game while holding their opposition to 93.7 per contest.
The Magic are attempting, and making, more three pointers than any other Playoff team at 23.4 and 8.6 respectively. Their outside barrage, coupled with Dwight Howard's presence in the paint, has created a quandary that no Magic foe has been able to solve in a best of seven series.
Howard is averaging 21.7 points, 15.4 rebounds (4.5 offensive), and 2.2 blocks per game in the Playoffs.
Los Angeles' Playoff numbers are quite similar to Orlando's. The Lakers are 12-6 in the Playoffs, the Magic are 12-7. The Lakers are 8-2 in post-season home games, the Magic are 7-2. The Lakers are 4-4 in Playoff road games, the Magic are 5-5. LA is averaging more points per game (102.9), but they are also allowing more at 96.3.
The Lakers, however, do seem to be more equipped to deal with the problems the Magic pose than any team Orlando has faced thus far. Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol should make things more difficult for Howard inside. Also, small forward Lamar Odom has the height and skill to help neutralize Hedo Turkoglu and Rashard Lewis on the perimeter or in the paint, something Cleveland was unable to do with the shorter combination of Mo Williams and Delonte West.
Kobe Bryant, who is averaging 29.6 points and 5.3 rebounds in the post-season, also presents the Magic with many of the same problems that LeBron James did, only Bryant has a more reliable offensive group around him. The Lakers are capable of producing an inside out game that the Cavaliers simply could not.
All things considered, this should be a fantastic series, even if the reigning MVP will be watching it from his couch.
Game 1 of the 2009 NBA Finals is scheduled for Thursday at 9:00pm ET at the STAPLES Center in Los Angeles. The Best of Seven series will be boraodcast live on ABC.
Sportsbook.com Magic vs Lakers Series Odds 2009 NBA Finals:
Orlando Magic (To win the Best of 7 Series) +210 (Moneyline)
Los Angeles Lakers (To win the Best of 7 Series) -280 (Moneyline)
Visit Sportsbook.com today to get the latest Magic vs Lakers Series Odds 2009 NBA Finals. In addition to their 2009 NBA Finals Odds, Sportsbook.com also offers a varitey of NBA Finals Player and Prop Bets, including NBA Finals MVP, Highest Scorer, and Margin of Victory.
(All pix from espn.com)
Lakers get home court, but will they have advantage vs. Magic?
The anticipated Lakers-Cavaliers, LeBron-Kobe Finals didn't happen, but that doesn't mean L.A. will have it any easier against Orlando.
By Mike Bresnahan, May 31, 2009
So much for Kobe Bryant and LeBron James settling the who's-best debate on the court.
The Lakers officially have an opponent in the NBA Finals, and it's not the Cleveland Cavaliers, though the Orlando Magic will be more than last-second stand-ins, thanks to a horde of accurate long-range shooters and a tough-to-stop protagonist, center Dwight Howard.
The Lakers, however, are already in better shape than they were a year ago because they have home-court advantage in the Finals.
Games 1 and 2 are Thursday and next Sunday at Staples Center. The middle three games will be in Orlando, followed by the final two games back at Staples Center, depending on how many are needed in the best-of-seven series.
All the hand-wringing that accompanied the Lakers' failure to secure home-court advantage throughout the playoffs disappeared amid a flurry of Orlando three-pointers Saturday, one of two ways the Magic erased Cleveland with a 103-90 victory in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference finals.
The other way, of course, was down low with Howard, who had 40 points and 14 rebounds to help make those LeBron-Kobe puppet commercials less relevant for the month of June.
There's obviously no more internal bickering in Orlando about whether Howard is getting enough touches.
Howard now becomes the Lakers' problem. He averaged 21.5 points and 16 rebounds against them as the Magic swept the two-game regular-season series.
"We've still got work to do," Howard said Saturday after being handed a microphone to address Orlando fans after the conference-clinching victory. "I hope everybody starts believing in us because we're going to keep working."
After taking Saturday off, the Lakers will return to practice today to start figuring out how to stop Howard.
"Howard's a real big dude," forward Trevor Ariza said. "But we've got some big dudes too."
The main line of defense will presumably be Andrew Bynum.
Bynum played in both regular-season games against the Magic, finishing with 14 points and three rebounds in the Lakers' 109-103 home loss and only three points and one rebound in a foul-plagued effort in a 106-103 road loss.
"He's a guy that you can't let too far down in the lane," Bynum said. "If you do, it's going to be a problem."
Bynum didn't seem aggravated when reminded of his rough outing against Howard in December, when he amassed five fouls in under 12 minutes.
"That was when I was hearing whistles in my sleep for that part of the season," Bynum said. "He's a big body, he's strong, he's very athletic. He's going to put pressure on everybody, but if we play team defense and move that ball on offense, I think we'll be fine."
Orlando hadn't been to the Finals since Shaquille O'Neal helped make it happen in 1995, but the Magic returned again in front of its most high-profile courtside fan, Tiger Woods.
Magic forward Rashard Lewis easily led the league with 220 three-pointers during the regular season, making 21 more than the next player, Boston's Ray Allen.
Hedo Turkoglu, Mickael Pietrus and trade-deadline pickup Rafer Alston are also three-point threats.
"They space the floor so well that you've got to prepare for them differently than pretty much every team you play," Lakers forward Luke Walton said. "They're kind of like the old Phoenix Suns of a couple years ago."
Homemade "Beat L.A." signs were already being brandished by Magic fans Saturday at Amway Arena, accompanied by the familiar chant of the same name.
The Lakers, despite their 0-2 record against the Magic this season, sound as if they're ready to face Orlando, particularly after emerging from a tense, physical series against Denver.
"We played against physical players. We've faced everything already in the West," Ariza said. "They're going to be ready for sure. They're well-coached. They're going to shoot threes and they're going to try and get the ball in the paint."