It's official. Two nights ago, the Detroit Red Wings defeated the Dallas Stars 4-1 in game 6 of the Western Conference Finals to get their 12th win of the postseason and clinch a berth in the Stanley Cup Finals against the Pittsburgh Penguins.
I can't believe I recovered that fast.
However, just because our last game was a rough loss at home, the season was very enjoyable overall. From a strong regular season, to an unexpected first-round win against the former Stanley Cup Champions, a hard-fought win against the best team down the stretch, and the joy of watching the team almost come back against the Presidents Trophy winners after going down 0-3, the season was awesome.
Marty Turco had another strong regular season, and then finally shook all of the post-season critics still citing a first round loss last year by reaching the Conference Finals this year. Marty's a great goalie, and I'm hoping that he'll be with us when our next strong playoff run (which could even be next year) and someday lead us to the Cup. Marty, you get the Completely-Awesome-Goalie Award, because you rock.
Brenden Morrow proved that he's an unbeatable captain. After a tough year last year, when he played only 40 games due to injury (and was on pace for the same 32 goals that he got this year), he had a career year of 74 points in 82 games. His usual brusqueness was evidenced by his 105 PIM's, and his leader lessons from Mike Modano have obviously brushed off. His determined speech before game 4 of the Detroit series led to a quote from Mike Babcock, saying that Morrow was 'the kind of captain you want on your team.' Obviously, he likes Nicky Lidstrom a little more, but even then, it's a great comment from a great coach. Brenden, you the the Fiery-Leader Award for keeping us alive in the playoffs.
Mike Ribeiro came out of his shell and proved that he could be a reliable No. 1 center, pairing with Morrow to score 27 goals, 56 assists, and 83 points in 76 games. Although the duo never found a steady right-winger, Ribs meshed well with Jere Lehtinen, Antti Miettinen, and for a short time, Chris Conner. Consistently criticized for consistency, Mike had a career year, and looks to be a strong Star for a few years now. Ribs gets the Now-I'm-Here Award for finally showing his skills.
Mike Modano had a terrific year, despite having second, and later third line ice time. His usual partner in crime, Jere Lehtinen, played well when he was healthy, and Mo finished with 21 goals and 57 points in 82 games. Still the face of the franchise, Modano showed his selflessness by quietly accepting the loss of ice time and was still a vocal leader in the locker room. He had a strong playoff, with 5 power-play goals and one game-winner, and was a big reason for the Stars' strong season. Mo gets the I'm-Not-Done-Yet award for having a solid season despite his age.
Sergei Zubov had an injury-filled season, but he was still a great contributor. His point totals would have pro-rated to reach around 60-70 points, his usual numbers. He missed the first round of the playoffs, but immediately stepped up when he came back in the second round, getting a game-winning assist in his first game back. He's getting to the point where his numbers might lower, and he probably won't be seen as a big star, but he'll be a fan favorite until he leaves the game. Zubie gets the I-Fall-Down-But-I-Get-Up-Again Award for his injury comeback.
Brad Richards was an interesting story this year. He was acquired at the trade deadline from Tampa, and finished the regular season with questionable results. His first game included five assists, but he finished the season with just 11 in 12 games as a Star. However, a playoff year of 15 points in 18 games showed that Brad fits in Dallas, and hopefully, he can be a main contributor next year. Richards recieves the Awesome-New-Guy Award for being a key acquisition in a trade.
Stephane Robidas had a great season. Always seen as a solid top-6 D-man, but never shining, Robie stepped up in the playoffs when Phillipe Boucher and Sergei Zubov both went down, and had a great post-season. With just 26 points during 82 regular season games, Stephane had 11 points in 18 playoff matches, his best ever contribution. Robidas gets my playoff MVP award for finally showing that he can be a star with the Stars.
There are so many more bright spots to the Stars' season. Matt Niskanen, Nicklas Grossman, and Mark Fistric all shone in their rookie seasons and in the playoffs. Niklas Hagman was a revelation, scoring a career-high 27 goals while playing on the second and third lines all year. Mattias Norstrom was largely inconspicuous on the blue-line during the regular season, but had a strong playoff year and looks to be another smart addition to one of the best defensive corps in the league. Toby Petersen played just 8 regular season games, garnering 3 assists, but was called upon during the Detroit series and performed the key role of shutting down Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk while the Stars won games 4 & 5. Steve Ott, the antagonist, showed that he could fight and score, turning into one of the best 20-point 100-PIM guys in the league.
I could go on and on.
The year is over now, and the offseason will probably be spent trying to keep the majority of the team together. I imagine that the only losses will be winger Antti Miettinen, who was inconsistent, but still one of my favorite guys, and likely one of Brad Winchester or Toby Petersen, each being fourth line guys who might want more time elsewhere. Johan Holmqvist might also be let go after barely playing with the team after he arrived the Richards trade.
If I was the Stars' GM, I would take the regular season step by step. In the draft, I would go for someone like James Arniel or Mitch Wahl in the second round (the first rounder went to LA for Norstrom), with Krystopher Berglund another possible pick. Offense should be the main goal, although another defense prospect to wait on would be fine. The goaltending is shored up, with Marty Turco still going strong, Tobias Stephan in the wings waiting for some lessons, and Richard Bachman coming off a solid college season. That's how I would face the young guys.
In the free agent and trading area, I would keep a largely low profile. I know that all of us fans got frustrated with that last off-season, but I think it would do us good to keep the team together. An interesting move would be signing Mike Ryan or Ryan Malone to replace Miettinen, in case one of Konstantin Pushkarev, James Neal, or Vojtek Polak can't step up in time. Me being the creative type, I also thought that trading Dan Jancevski and Miettinen for Christian Ehrhoff would be kind of interesting. It wouldn't work out, though, largely because Zubov and Boucher are almost sure to come back, and our rookie trio on the back end doesn't need another trip to the minors. On that thought, however, it'll be interesting to see what Brett Hull and Les Jackson do when they realize that Zubov, Boucher, Norstrom, Robidas, Daley, Niskanen, Grossman, and Fistric are all top-six material. A trade involving Daley or Norstrom, and a minor-leaguer, for a scoring winger such as Ryan Malone or even Marian Hossa, is an interesting prospect. I know I'm ranting on, but that's me for you, the ultimate Stars fan.
Regarding the Stanley Cup Finals, I'm calling the Penguins to go all the way. 5 games, no kidding. I think that with Crosby, Malkin, Hossa, Malone, Sykora, Whitney, Gonchar, Letang, Staal, Tyler Kennedy, and Pascal Dupuis all scoring, and Jarkko Ruutu coming in with the fluke goals and Sean-Avery-like beastliness of agitation, the Red Wings won't stand a chance. The scoring depth of the Penguins is just too much for Detroit to match. Beyond Zetterberg, Datsyuk, Tomas Holmstrom, Johan Franzen (injured, possibly in for the Finals though), and Jiri Hudler, the Wings can only hope that Valterri Filpulla and Darren McCarty can light the lamp a few times. That's 11 and a half against 6 (Filpulla and McCarty's halves combine for a whole) in the goal department. On defense, the Wings have the advantage with Lidstrom, Kronwall, and Stuart forming the top three compared to Gonchar, Whitney, and Brooks Orpik.
That's all I have in me today. I'll probably blog again after game 1 of the Finals.
P.S., good job by the Sharks for re-signing J.R. He'll be key in next year's run to the Finals (oh man, did I really call that? I think I did...)