When the Detroit Red Wings and Pittsburgh Penguins meet for the first time in two seasons, it will be for all the marbles.
The Red Wings clinched their first Stanley Cup final appearance since 2002 with a 4-1 win over the Dallas Stars Monday night, winning the Western Conference series in six games.
The Red Wings will meet the Eastern-champion Penguins when the series opens Saturday.
Detroit were dominant in the post-season, beating the Nashville Predators in six and sweeping the Colorado Avalanche in the semifinal before dispatching the Stars in six.
Pittsburgh has been no less stellar. The Penguins swept the Ottawa Senators and beat the New York Rangers and Philadelphia Flyers in five games each. They will look to a rowdy Mellon Arena for support where they are unbeaten since February 24 in 2-1 shootout loss to the San Jose Sharks.
What a difference four years makes.
Finishing dead last in the 2003-04 regular season, the Penguins now enter their first Cup final in 14 years on the strength of a red-hot offence. Sid Crosby’s 21 post-season points leads teammates Marian Hossa (19), Evgeni Malkin (19) and Ryan Malone (15) while Marc-Andre Fleury has been exceptional between the posts with a 1.70 GAA.
Detroit’s offence enters the final short their leading goal scorer. Johan Franzen set a franchise record with 12 playoff goals before suffering a concussion in Game 1 against Dallas and the Red Wings will look to Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk to fill the void left by Franzen on the score sheet.
The Red Wings can also rely on their post-season experience to play a factor against the young Penguins. The Red Wings last won the Cup in 2002 and have made the playoffs every year since 1991. While the Penguins lineup averages a mere 21 years of age, the Red Wings lineup boasts several Cup veterans including Kirk Maltby and Tomas Holmstrom, both of who will be looking for their fourth Stanley Cup with Detroit.