The grueling journey for the Stanley Cup is almost over. Just two teams remain – and they’re awfully familiar with each other.
The Pittsburgh Penguins and Detroit Red Wings will clash in the final for the second straight year, the first time since 1983-84 there has been a repeat in opponents (Islanders-Edmonton).
Through three rounds, our predictions here at THN.com have been pretty spot-on. Thanks to a conference finals sweep, we head into the Cup with a 10-4 record.
Can the Wings go back-to-back or will the Penguins take the first step towards their dynasty?
In seven games or less the answer awaits, but here’s how we see it going down.
Detroit - 1-0-1 (9 GF, 7 GA)
Pittsburgh - 1-1-0 (7 GF, 9 GA)
LEADING SCORER VS. OPPONENT
Detroit - Jiri Hudler and Marian Hossa 3 (2G, 1A)
Pittsburgh - Jordan Staal 4 (3G, 1A)
Unless one of these two teams plays entirely out of character, special teams aren’t likely to be an enormous factor. And that’s probably good news for the Red Wings, whose penalty-killing has been uncharacteristically atrocious in the post-season, giving up 15 power play goals in 57 opportunities and sitting near the bottom of the heap among playoff teams in that category. Both squads, however, have been incredibly well-behaved throughout the playoffs and don’t take stupid or lazy penalties, which, for some reason, seem to be the hardest ones to kill. Detroit’s power play has been better than Pittsburgh’s, but their penalty-killing shortcomings will keep them honest. Edge: Pittsburgh
At first blush, you’d look at what Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin have done in this year’s playoffs and make this category a slam-dunk for Pittsburgh, but have you noticed that the Red Wings have averaged almost 40 shots a game through the playoffs so far? The Penguins forward ranks are top-heavy with superstars who are playing like superstars, along with some role players who are making some timely contributions. The Red Wings, on the other hand, have a band of brothers on their four lines that, on any given night, have the potential to make life miserable for their opponent. Crosby seemed to get away from the shoot-first mentality that made him such a force in the second round, but if he and Malkin continue their level of play, the Red Wings defense will have all it can handle. Edge: Even
The Penguins have received some yeomen’s work from a defense corps that is a little underappreciated and has held up quite well, but this is one area of the game where the Red Wings have an enormous advantage – if their defensemen are all healthy. Jonathan Ericsson having surgery on his appendix prior to Game 5 of the Western Conference final was a surprise and the Red Wings have to be concerned about how effective Nicklas Lidstrom will be. But they have a couple of days to recover and, if healthy, have an all-round game that the Penguins can’t match. Edge: Detroit
Marc-Andre Fleury was lights-out in Game 4 of the Penguins sweep of Carolina and is gaining traction as one of the top goalies in the game. Chris Osgood continues to defy all laws of logic that suggest a player simply can’t just turn it on once the playoffs begin. He has been a pillar on a team that needs its goalie to only be good, not great. But the fact of the matter is the Red Wings and Penguins have given up almost exactly the same number of shots per game in this year’s playoffs and Osgood has been statistically better than Fleury in every department. Edge: Detroit
There’s an interesting little back story here. Dan Bylsma was a utility forward on the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim back in 2003 when they lost the Cup final in seven games to the New Jersey Devils. The coach of that Ducks team? Mike Babcock, of course. Babcock earned his stripes as an NHL coach a long time ago and remains one of the top bench bosses in the league, both in terms of preparing his team and making adjustments during games and series. Bylsma has done almost everything right since taking over the Penguins, going a combined 30-8-4 in the regular season and the playoffs so far. But Babcock’s experience probably tilts the ice in his favor. Edge: Detroit
When these two teams met for the first time this season back in November, the Penguins trailed by two goals with less than five minutes remaining, but ended up winning the game in overtime. You get the sense the Pens really wanted a rematch with the Red Wings and feel they’re much better equipped to beat them than they were last year. And they are. Both teams had the benefit of a relatively easy conference final and are at the top of their games. To be sure, the final has the potential to be the most entertaining we’ve seen in years, and that’s actually saying something.
There are some parallels between this series and 1984, when the Edmonton Oilers faced the New York Islanders in the final for the second straight spring and won the Stanley Cup. The only difference – and it’s a major one - is the Islanders were a dynasty in demise and the Red Wings are a dynasty that is showing no signs of slowing down. In fact, they’re getting better. The reality is this is a pick ‘em series and we’re picking the champs to repeat. In the end, experience, poise and home ice advantage will be the deciding factors in the series. Detroit in seven.
Who do you think will win? Vote HERE.