Well, there you have it. The two most star-studded lineups in the NHL – yet ones people still wanted to write-off in early rounds – are set to do battle in the 2008 Stanley Cup final.
So which team to choose?
On one hand we have the Detroit Red Wings, the epitome of greatness and model of consistency over the past decade. The catch is, they haven’t won a Cup since 2001-02 and have found themselves on the wrong side of an upset more often than not in recent years.
With eight players still around from Detroit’s last championship season, can the new cast align themselves with Motown’s best, finally?
On the other we have the popular pick of bandwagoners, the Pittsburgh Penguins. Since their last Stanley Cup championship in 1992, the Pens have teetered on the edge of bankruptcy and nearly relocated their franchise. However, those years of camping out in the basement are finally paying dividends in the forms of Evgeni Malkin, Sidney Crosby and Marc-Andre Fleury, to name a few.
The Pens, though inexperienced compared to their Cup-chasing counterparts, are intent on returning to the crest of greatness.
Below you’ll find a breakdown on the Stanley Cup final matchup and, coming off a split in the third round, THN.com’s picks to win it all. View our conference finals predictions HERE.
DETROIT RED WINGS vs. PITTSBURGH PENGUINS
Regular Season Record:
Detroit – 54-21-7, 115 pts
Pittsburgh – 47-27-8, 102 pts
Playoff Scoring Leaders:
Detroit – Henrik Zetterberg, 21 (11G, 10A); Pavel Datsyuk, 19 (9G, 10A); Johan Franzen, 15 (12G, 3A); Jiri Hudler, 13 (4G, 9A); Niklas Kronwall, 12 (0G, 12A).
Pittsburgh – Sidney Crosby, 21 (4G, 17A); Marian Hossa, 19 (9G, 10A); Evgeni Malkin, 19 (9G, 10A); Ryan Malone, 15 (6G, 9A); Sergei Gonchar, 11 (1G, 10A).
2008 Playoff MVP
Detroit – Henrik Zetterberg. Aside from the fact he leads the Red Wings in scoring with 21 points in 16 games, Zetterberg is as proficient a defensive contributor as he is on offense.
Pittsburgh – Sidney Crosby. Sure, he’d probably like to have more than four goals in 14 games, but his skill and vision are key factors in elevating the play of those around him.
Why They’re Here
Detroit – Depth remains the Red Wings calling card. Imagine a team losing its top scorer (Johan Franzen, 12 goals) through the first two rounds and barely skipping a beat. It also helps to have experience and the Red Wings have plenty of that to go around, too.
Pittsburgh – Not enough credit is given to coach Michel Therrien, who has instilled in his offense-oriented team the value of two-way hockey. The Penguins don’t have the same marquee value on its blueline as Detroit, but the Penguins team defense is solid.
The Penguins rank second on the power play after three rounds with a 24.6 percent success rate, while the Red Wings are fifth at 21 percent. Both teams have an 87.3 percent penalty-killing efficiency rate, but the Red Wings have five shorthanded goals compared to one for the Penguins. Edge: Pittsburgh
At first blush, one is tempted to suggest no team in the NHL has as potent a 1-2 punch as Crosby and Malkin, but the reality is, through the playoffs, Zetterberg and Datsyuk have been every bit as lethal; and they have more experience. Hossa has proven himself to be a valuable trade deadline addition, but Franzen can counter Hossa’s effectiveness if he is able to return to health. Although 19-year-old Jordan Staal of the Pens is a horse, Kris Draper and Kirk Maltby have the edge in checking experience. Edge: Even
There is no question the Red Wings have a deeper and more experienced blueline beginning with soon-to-be-named Norris Trophy winner Nicklas Lidstrom. Brian Rafalski is a two-time Stanley Cup winner with New Jersey and a solid two-way performer, while Niklas Kronwall, finally healthy at this time of year, is another two-way threat who likes to hit. Brad Stuart has re-emerged as a dependable D-man with the Wings. On the other side, Sergei Gonchar is unquestionably Pittsburgh’s best defender and certainly worthy of praise. After that, defense is done by committee. Edge: Detroit
When Dominik Hasek went down, the Red Wings were very fortunate to have a backup goalie many teams would love to have as their No. 1 – Chris Osgood. Given the fact he has two Stanley Cup rings already and was the starter when Detroit won its second straight Cup in 1998, Osgood has lots of experience, so there are no surprises for him. Marc-Andre Fleury, meanwhile, is new to all of this. He was 1-4 coming into this year’s playoffs, but has been nothing short of sensational through the first three rounds. Edge: Detroit
Once again, if experience counts, the Wings are standing tall with Mike Babcock who guided the Mighty Ducks to the final in 2002-03. Babcock’s teams are fast, play a solid puck possession game and are very disciplined. It would have been easy for Michel Therrien to assess his talent and go with a strictly run-and-gun style, but he understands the value of defense and has managed to get that message through to his players. Edge: Detroit
Based on previous playoff experiences, we pretty much know what to expect from the Red Wings’ stars. But what about the Penguins’ top guns? This is, after all, just the second year of post-season action for Crosby, Malkin and Staal. Have we seen their best yet? If I was the Red Wings, I’d be concerned Crosby only has four goals to this point. He could be on the verge of exploding. Edge: Pittsburgh
This has the potential to be one of the best Stanley Cup finals in years. Or, if Detroit’s experience is the deciding factor, it could be over in four games. Given the fact the Penguins have not lost at home in this year’s playoffs, we don’t see that happening. And when you have the best player in the world on your team – Crosby – that can also be a deciding factor. Pittsburgh in six.
Who do you think will win? Vote HERE.