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Wings or Penguins? The Canadian Press picks the Stanley Cup winner

It will be skill versus skill in this year's Stanley Cup final.

The Pittsburgh Penguins and Detroit Red Wings meet in an NHL championship series that oozes talent. The league couldn't possibly be any happier. This is how hockey is supposed to be played and the fans should be the big winners.

Even the analytical Scotty Bowman agrees this series will be a great one to watch.

"I do, yes," the NHL's all-time winningest coach told The Canadian Press. "Because they both can get chances on the rush. Both teams don't need a lot of chances to score. That's a big factor. They make the best of their chances. It'll be interesting to see."

Bowman has coached both organizations to Stanley Cup championships and remains a consultant to the Red Wings today. We asked him for his thoughts on the series.

For starters, Bowman said, it's the cream of the crop meeting in the final.

"Detroit won the President's Trophy and Pittsburgh would have won the East for sure if (Sidney) Crosby wouldn't have missed all those games," said Bowman. "So it doesn't happen very often that the two top regular-season teams meet in the final."

They've both been especially good at home. The Penguins are a perfect 8-0 at Mellon Arena while the Wings have gone 7-1 at Joe Louis Arena.

"People often say home ice doesn't mean anything anymore, but in this instance home ice meant a lot," said Bowman. "They won a lot of games on the road but the fact neither team really stumbled at home was a big factor."

According to the NHL, the Wings average 4.4 years older in age than their Penguin counterparts, 32.3 compared to 27.9. The Wings have been around, and have eight returning players from the 2002 Cup champion team. Detroit has a big edge in experience.

"But it's not like Pittsburgh has no experience at all," said Bowman. "Gonchar is a veteran guy and Gill has played a few years ... I think more than the experience, the big thing will be the play of the defence. How each defence can handle the other team's forwards. That's going to be a big test."

Both teams have deep and talented forward groups. Bowman figures the blue-line group that can withstand the most will be the difference.

"The big factor is going to be handling the high-powered offence from these players who have averaged more than a point a game," said Bowman. "Both teams have these kinds of guys."

Fatigue should not be a factor.

"Pittsburgh finished a day earlier but they've both had a similar schedule," said Bowman. "One team is 12-4 and the other is 12-2. There's not a huge differential there."

The two teams haven't met since October 2006.

"So it's hard to predict from that point of view, they've haven't played each other in a long time," said Bowman.

We won't ask Bowman for a prediction given his current ties to Detroit. That's where we take over.

The forward groups are very close in talent and depth. Pittsburgh's offence is ranked No. 1 in the playoffs at 3.64 goals per game. Detroit is second at 3.44.

The Wings get the nod on defence. Penguins Sergei Gonchar, Ryan Whitney, Brooks Orpik and the up-and-coming Kris Letang are not bad but it doesn't compare to the top four in Detroit. Five-time Norris Trophy winner Nicklas Listrom is joined by Brian Rafalski, Brad Stuart and Niklas Kronwall in a fearsome foursome, the likes of which the Penguins forwards have yet to face in the post-season.

The Penguins have the slight edge in goal with Marc-Andre Fleury over Chris Osgood. The 23-year-old Fleury has blossomed over the last three months into the franchise goalie everyone expected when he went first overall in the 2003 NHL entry draft. The 35-year-old Osgood is a great story, going to the all-star game this year and usurping Dominik Hasek midway through the first round of the playoffs as the Wings' No. 1 goalie. His numbers are dynamite, too. But he's yet to face a Sidney Crosby-Evgeni Malkin offensive attack.

This will be a long, close series. Home ice and experience could be the difference.

Prediction - Red Wings in a very difficult seven.

-Pierre LeBrun's record in these playoffs is 8-6.



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