Cup showdowns spawn a rivalry

Red Wings' continued excellence hasn't gone unnoticed by Penguins

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This is not the kind of rivalry where the mere sight of the other club's sweater inspires snarls, where emotions and elbows are high just about anytime the teams share a slab of ice.

No, this is not Penguins-Philadelphia, or Penguins-Washington.

But that doesn't mean it isn't compelling whenever the Penguins and Detroit get together, which they will do at 7:08 Tuesday night at Consol Energy Center.

The Penguins and Red Wings don't share a conference, let alone a division, so they never see each other more than twice in a given winter.

But they did have a couple of epic run-ins late in the spring of 2008 and '09 -- specifically, a pair of best-of-seven series that determined possession of the Stanley Cup for the following 12 months -- and those high-stakes showdowns pretty much assured that it is not just one of 82 regular-season games when the Penguins and Detroit play.

"There's definitely something to the two years, when we lost to them and then beat them," Penguins defenseman Brooks Orpik said. "It's probably inevitable that you'd develop some type of rivalry."

While there isn't necessarily any great affection between these franchises -- Red Wings forward Daniel Cleary actually was quoted a few years as saying he hates the Penguins -- their meetings aren't rooted in the kind of contempt common among teams that regularly battle for the same piece of turf in divisional or conference standings.

"We don't play them enough," Penguins left winger Matt Cooke said. "We just don't get to see them. Obviously, for two years, there were 13 games played against each other at a key moment in the season but when you see them once or twice in the preseason and once during the regular season, it makes it tough to have a rivalry."

That lack of first-hand familiarity doesn't prevent the Penguins from appreciating what the Red Wings accomplish, year-in and year-out, however.

Detroit has won four Stanley Cups since 1997, and hasn't missed the playoffs since 1990. There's not much reason to believe that streak will end this season, either, considering that Detroit has won nine of its past 11 games and is tied for the third-most points in the Western Conference.

"For the past I don't know how many years, they've been competitive," Penguins goalie Marc-Andre Fleury said. "They've always been battling for the first spot in their conference.

"To do it year after year is tough and they've been able to do it."

There are numerous explanations as to why the Red Wings have managed that. Quality coaching is a factor, to be sure, but Detroit also has a knack for identifying and developing young talent -- surely, no team has culled more impact players from the latter rounds of the draft than the Wings -- and for deftly patching holes in its lineup with free agents.

"[What] I've always been amazed at is they bring guys in who played in other organizations, guys like [Todd] Bertuzzi and others you think maybe wouldn't fit into that kind of style but for some reason, they make it work," Orpik said.

True enough but homegrown stars such as defenseman Nicklas Lidstrom and forwards Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg are the cornerstone of the franchise. A case could be made for any of those three being the face of the franchise but Lidstrom, who has more Norris trophies than some defensemen have career points, probably is the most logical choice.

"He's been there the longest and has had an amazing career," Cooke said.

Lidstrom is 41, which might explain why he was only tied for sixth in scoring among NHL defensemen going into Sunday night's games, with 20 points in 28 games. Why, at this rate, he might have to seriously consider retiring in another two or three decades.

The high regard the Penguins have for Lidstrom is as evident as it is understandable, but his presence is just one of the reasons they look forward to facing Detroit.

Detroit's consistent excellence has a lot to do with it -- "They've had a good team for such a long time that they're a measuring stick," Cooke said -- and those collisions in the Cup final a few years back play a part, too, even if the rivalry lacks the nasty edge of the ones the Penguins have with opponents like the Flyers and Capitals.

"I think there's mutual respect but also we want to beat them and they want to beat us," Fleury said. "I don't think there's the same hate. It's just a good hockey battle."

NOTES -- Forward Jason Williams , recalled from the Penguins' minor league team in Wilkes-Barre Saturday after it was determined center Jordan Staal would be unable to play on Long Island that night because of an unspecified injury, was returned to the Baby Penguins Sunday. ... The Penguins had a scheduled day off Sunday and did not update the conditions of Staal or center Sidney Crosby , who sat out the past two games as a "precaution."

Dave Molinari: or Twitter @MolinariPG. First Published December 12, 2011 5:00 AM


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