DETROIT (AP) Don’t be fooled by the scraggly semblance of a beard that strains to cover chunks of Sidney Crosby’s 21-year-old face.
He’s most definitely still Sid the Kid, but with a tough loss to the Detroit Red Wings in the Stanley Cup finals under his belt, the young Pittsburgh Penguins captain has the experience that could make a difference in the rematch.
“There’s no surprises this year,” Crosby said Friday. “We know what to expect. Even a simple thing like today, coming in we know what to expect.”
For the first time since 1983 and 1984 when the New York Islanders and Edmonton Oilers split a pair of titles, the NHL championship is a rematch. The Penguins hope to equal the Oilers’ feat of losing in the final round against a dynasty team and wresting away the Cup the following year.
It hasn’t been done since.
“We know our opponent,” Crosby said. “Last year that wasn’t the case. There shouldn’t be any anticipation, really. We know what to do. We’ve got to go out there and do it.”
Edmonton’s win in 1984 ended the Islanders’ reign of four straight titles and started the Oilers’ run of five championships in seven years.
The Red Wings, who have won four titles in 11 seasons, are built on a foundation of older stalwarts such as captain Nicklas Lidstrom, Tomas Holmstrom, Kris Draper and Kirk Maltby. They are bolstered by relative newcomers Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg, their top two regular-season scorers.
Detroit won in six games last year and is looking to become the first NHL team with back-to-back championships since the Red Wings did in 1997 and 1998 with several of these players.
“It’s fun when you look back at some of the pictures when we tried growing beards and still had a little of the baby fat going,” said Maltby, a four-time Cup winner. “Now the roles are reversed and we’re the older guys.
“To be able to get here for a fifth time is something I never would’ve dreamed of.”
The series starts Saturday night in Detroit with Game 2 shoved in on Sunday. It is the first time finals games will be played on consecutive days since 1955. And to think, a few days earlier the talk was how the NHL foolishly planned to have eight days off between the conference finals and the championship round.
The banged-up, older Red Wings expect to have Lidstrom back on the blue line Saturday after he was forced to sit out the last two games of the conference finals against Chicago because of an undisclosed lower-body injury.
Draper, sidelined for all but four games during this postseason, should also return along with defenseman Jonathan Ericsson – just a few days removed from surgery following a bout with appendicitis.
Datsyuk is still the biggest question mark. He practiced Friday morning, but will be a game-time decision. The Red Wings could have used more time off, but now face the prospect of playing four games in six nights and five in eight.
“We have two of the greatest teams in the world, star power-wise,” Red Wings coach Mike Babcock said. “I don’t think we need 14 days off, but there’s a reason the NFL who, in my opinion is the biggest promotional horse maybe besides NASCAR, takes two weeks off before the Super Bowl. It’s called to hype it up.
“We had a ton of time. I mean, I could have went bear hunting every series in between games. The bottom line is we’re here, we’re ecstatic to be here, and we’re excited to be playing the games wherever they’re scheduled and whenever they’re scheduled.”
At least Detroit will be starting a series at home for the 20th consecutive time, a streak that began in 2001.
Marian Hossa was acquired by Pittsburgh at last year’s trade deadline to be the scoring winger alongside Crosby. Soon after the Penguins fell short against the Red Wings, Hossa surprisingly signed a one-year deal with Detroit for less money than he could have made with the Penguins.
The Red Wings provided a prime chance to win an elusive championship. Both the Penguins and Hossa said it was strictly a business decision and that no hard feelings exist.
Time will tell.
“Of course the winning situation was one thing, but another reason why I chose this team was because of the group, (Chris Chelios), and Nick, and Draper and Maltby,” Hossa said. “The experience can help me in the future. Learn something new from those guys, why they’re winning so well and why they’re going so well during the years.
“So it was not about the best chance to win, because Pittsburgh had an unbelievable team. That’s why it was so difficult. It came down to two choices. I could be a good scout because I picked the two best teams right now.”
The Penguins have surged since February when coach Michel Therrien, who took them to the finals last year, was fired. Pittsburgh was in 10th place in the Eastern Conference and in danger of missing the playoffs.
Dan Bylsma, who played under Babcock in 2003 when Anaheim reached the Cup finals, was promoted from the AHL to head coach and led an 18-3-4 finish that vaulted the Penguins to the No. 4 seed.
Crosby and fellow superstar Evgeni Malkin are tied for the NHL playoff lead with 28 points. Crosby is on top with 14 goals, and Malkin is right behind him with 12.
“You dream your whole life about being in that position and you work so hard, and right at that moment you never know if you’re going to get another chance,” Crosby said of the finals loss. “We feel pretty fortunate to get a second chance here.”