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Last in a series.
(1) Detroit Redwings vs. (2) Pittsburgh Penguins
First, a quick recap from the prior round:
Detroit steamrolled past Dallas in six games and Pittsburgh blew past Philadelphia in five, setting up a clash of the titans for this year's Stanley Cup Finals. If anything came out of the brief conference final round it's the knowledge that these are the two best teams left standing.
On to the feature presentation:
There will be no Cinderella story this time around, just as even a match-up as anyone could ask for. The real winner here is the fan of hockey who will get to see two fast-paced teams that are exciting to watch instead of the clutch-and-grab, bore-you-to-death kind of teams. This is the first meeting of these teams in post-season play, but Detroit will be looking for their 11th Cup, while Pittsburgh is out to get their third. Detroit is as finesse as any team can be with the exception of Pittsburgh - no slouch in that department either.
Let's take a look at how they stack up.
* While the offenses get the headlines and limelight, it's both teams' goaltenders who have quietly pieced together the kind of playoff runs that say Conn Smythe Trophy Winner. Both Pittsburgh's Marc Andre Fleury and Detroit's Chris Osgood deserve your attention after backstopping both of their respective teams into the Finals. It's noteworthy because on two teams with explosive offenses, it's the goaltending that's been remarkable. Both goalies have shut the door on opponents and Fleury heads into the Finals with three shutouts, including his last game against Philadelphia.
* Both teams have had young defensemen step up their games in the playoffs. Pittsburgh's Brooks Orpik has excelled alongside Sergei Gonchar and will have a tough task trying to stifle Detroit's dynamic duo in Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk. Detroit has been blessed with perhaps the greatest D-man of his generation in Nicklas Lidstrom, but it's the other Swedish blueliner, Niklas Kronwall, who has really risen to the occasion and will be asked to tangle with Pittsburgh's superhero tandem of Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin.
* This year's Cup also has plenty of international flair. Detroit has so many Swedish players they could field their own national team: Lidstrom, Kronwall, Zetterberg, Holstrom, Samuelsson, Lilja, and Franzen among them, while Pittsburgh boasts three Russians (Malkin, Gonchar, and Sykora), one Czech (Hossa), and a Fin (Jarrko Ruutu).
* Detroit is the more experienced, battle-tested team. The average age of their players is almost five years greater then that of the Penguins. Pittsburgh has youth and size. Sidney Crosby is attempting to win his first Cup in only his third season, which would be faster than Wayne Gretzky (fourth year) or Mario Lemieux (seventh).
If the Finals were a movie, this would be of the epic blockbuster variety (Indiana Jones Meets Lord Stanley?). Look for a back-and-forth series with each team winning games on the road.
Prediction: Pens in seven.
Disagree? Let us hear it.
1. From Eric Emery:
Only difference between the Pens and the Wings is that the Wings defensemen tend to be old and slow. Sometimes, old equals experienced and wise, but in this case, you need fresh legs to combat three lines of legitimate scoring. Pens in 6.
- Early word on Game 1 lineups.
- Mini-documentary on the Detroit tradition of the Octopi, which, incidentally, Commissioner Gary Bettman has banned for safety reasons.
- Bud Ice Commercial: Beware of the Penguins.
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