A real beauty, that Cup

It’s shinier in person.

That might explain why 17,000 Pittsburgh Penguin fans stuck around tonight to clap eyes on the greatest trophy in professional sport—even as they booed the Detroit Red Wings for winning it. But the Stanley Cup got it’s proper reception when Henrik Zetterberg, the Conn Smythe-winning forward, took it out of Daniel Cleary’s hands. You could hear him up in the press box, hollering with joy as he hoisted the 35-pound bad boy over his head. 

More than making you forgive the Wings their automatonic play, it was a scene to remind you that the Cup’s effect is universal. Swedes, Finns, Russians, Canadians and Americans alike understand the meaning of winning it. 

“It’s just a great feeling I have right now,” beamed Zetterberg after the on-ice celebration, with the Conn Smythe perched beside him. Pittsburgh’s last-gasp effort was close enough to scare him, he acknowledged. But holding on for the 3-2 win was more than enough to make his year. “When I saw the puck behind the [Detroit] net, I looked at the clock and saw zero minutes and zero seconds, I was a pretty happy man.”

A number of things got settled here tonight. The age of wimpy Euro—or the Euro as addendum to a core of Canadian “leaders”—is officially over. To merely credit Nicklas Lidstrom as the first European captain to hoist Lord Stanley’s mug is to criminally understate the man’s impact through every shift of every game in this series. He is, in Pierre McGuire’s tired phrase, a monster in every respect. Zetterberg is dominant at both ends of the rink, never skirting the rough stuff, maintaining breakneck speed even as he’s clipped and smacked and head-hunted. Tonight, he scored one of the stranger Cup-winning goals in history by pulling the puck through his skates as he wheeled through centre, unleashing a shot that caught Pens goaltender Marc-André Fleury off guard; as it dribbled between his pads, Fleury sat back, knocking the thing in with his butt.

Tomas Holmstrom, another Swede, takes more abuse in front of the net than any player since Phil Esposito. Niklas Kronvall is an outright menace in the open-ice hitting department. Datsyuk stands his ground. So do Franzen and Filppula.

So Lidstrom had every right to claim his due when he appeared before the press horde tonight. Being the first Euro to captain a Cup winner is “something I’m very proud of,” he said. “I’ve been over here a long time. I watched Steve Yzerman hoist it up three times in the past, and I’m very proud of being the first European. I’m very proud of being captain of the Red Wings. So much history with the team and great tradition.” How can you argue with that?

Better yet that Lidstrom made one of those class-act gestures that would bring a tear to Don Cherry’s eye, handing it the Cup off first to Dallas Drake, a career plumber who toiled 15 seasons on four teams without winning a title. 

Second thing: the Penguins are closer to championship form than their critics thought. Yes, they were at least a couple of good defencemen short of beating a team like Detroit. Yes, GM Ray Shero will have a devil of a time improving the team while staying under the salary cap—especially if he plans to keep Marian Hossa. But the spectacle tonight of the Pens storming back on the Wings for the second game in a row, almost tying it on a Sidney Crosby backhander with centi-seconds left on the clock, is proof enough of what’s going on here. They showed character, as well as youth and talent.

Finally, the “system” is back in hockey. It is hard just now to pinpoint exactly what Detroit’s system is. “Venus fly trap” might fit, given their capacity to lunge from a full-bloom, run-and-gun game to collapsing around their prey back in their own slot. Yet there was Lidstrom himself uttering the dreaded word, crediting coach Mike Babcock with selling his charges on a strategic formula that would limit offensive opportunities. Again and again tonight, Pittsburgh rushes fell apart in the neutral zone under Detroit’s patented high-speed checking. It’s not obstruction, per se. Just very rapid recovery.

That’s the good news: the Red Wings’ template requires very fast forwards, very mobile defence, great stamina throughout the lineup. And they execute it brilliantly. I’m one of those who complains incessantly about their robotic efficiency. But it must be a joy for their partisans to behold.

Almost as great a joy as that shiny old Cup in Henrik Zetterberg’s Midas-like hands. What lucky fans they are.



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