For the first time since 1984, and the first in any sport since 1998, the Stanley Cup Finals will have a rematch as the Pittsburgh Penguins and Detroit Red Wings will do battle once again. This matchup was the last one on people's minds back in February when they last met. Back then, the Penguins were struggling to even make the playoffs and fired coach Michel Therrien and hired Dan Bylsma. Since then, and after they traded for Chris Kunitz and Bill Guerin and got Sergei Gonchar back from injury, the Pens have been arguably the hottest team in the league.
The defending champs also had an inconsistent stretch toward the end of the season as they played a bunch of games where they lost 8-0 or in that neighborhood. They still finished as a 2-seed in the Western Conference but were only going to go as far as Chris Osgood could take them, according to the experts. Well Osgood has been great in net and the Wings are on the cusp of their fifth title in thirteen years. So who wins the series between the a team that trying to learn how to win against a proud champion that's not willing to giving up the Cup. It's time that I give a complete breakdown.
Offense: When you think of offense and the Pens, obviously Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin come to mind. And with good reason, they both have 28 points to lead all scorers and almost certainly will be the first players to score 30 in a playoff season since Joe Sakic in 1996. It's more than just that their scoring, but they have been dominant almost every night. Their dominance in turn is giving guys like Guerin, Kunitz and Ruslan Fedotenko the ability to have big postseasons. As for Detroit, what can you say, when the Datsyuk is hurt, someone else always steps up. Johan Franzen is now a proven go-to-scorer, Dan Cleary and Darren Helm have been scoring out of nowhere. Add Marian Hossa, Henrik Zetterberg and the Red Wings have the most balance scoring attack of all the playoff teams this postseason. Advantage: Detroit
Defense: In a normal situation, the Red Wings win hands down, but with Nick Lidstrom banged up, it makes the matchup closer to even. However, Detroit can still come out with Brian Rafalski, Niklas Kronwall, Brad Stuart and Brett Lebda. Pittsburgh counters with Gonchar, Mark Eaton, Rob Scudari, Brooks Orpik and Kris Letang. Even though the Red Wings allowed more regular season goals, in the playoffs, it's not even close. Advantage: Detroit
Goaltending: Osgood has played very well during the playoffs, but Marc-Andre Fleury has as well. Both goalies basically have to play well enough and not necessarily stand on their heads to win. I have to say though that Fleury has been impressing me, particularly against two of the better offensive teams in the league in the Flyers and the Caps. Osgood should be in the Hall of Fame when his career ends, but Fleury is showing everyone why the Pens drafted him at number 1 in 2003. Advantage: Pittsburgh
Wings Power Play vs Pens Penalty Kill: One one hand, you have a PK that is above average and the other you have a PP that can be as good as Derek Jeter's batting average. There was a time the Red Wings were at a 30% clip on the power play, now they are a solid 25%. Big advantage: Detroit
Pens PP vs Wings PK: As good as the Red Wings PP is, their PK is just as bad. Only Columbus and Calgary did worse than Detroit's 74% kill. The Pens PP is at about 20%, should increase during the series. Advantage: Pittsburgh
Coaching: Mike Babcock is making his third Finals appearance and is looking for his second Cup win. Dan Bylsma has only coached in the NHL since February. Babcock even handles the press conference well; he said that everyone talks like the Pens won last year. Advantage: Detroit
Schedule: It matters this year as the first two games are tonight and tomorrow (thanks Conan) and Game 3 is on Tuesday. If either Conference Final went six, the Finals would of started Friday and the Red Wings would of had more time to rest. The fact is, Lidstrom's banged up, Datsyuk and Kris Draper are missing games and the Penguins are relatively healthy. Big advantage: Pittsburgh
Superstition: Last year both teams followed the silly superstition and didn't touch the Wales and Campbell trophies for winning their conference. Since the Pens lost, Crosby decided to switch it up and and carry the Wales trophy. Hey, carrying it didn't stop Mario Lemeiux from winning Stanley Cups. Advantage: Even
History: If you're Pittsburgh, you look back to 1984 when two emerging stars faced a venerable dynasty on its Drive for Five and won in five, which is in a way what the Penguins are attempting to do. The Red Wings are looking back at their February meeting when they dominated them at the Igloo. However, that Pittsburgh team is a lot different than they are now. Advantage: Pittsburgh
Maggie the Monkey: On of TSN's gimmicks is to have a monkey named Maggie make picks using a spinning wheel. Her pick for the Stanley Cup Finals is Pittsburgh. Maggie is 0-5 in Stanley Cup Final picks. On the bright side, she's retiring and she's due to be right. Right? Advantage: No one.
Final Prediction: A more spaced out series would help the Red Wings and if they can make it through the first four games with a split, they will be hard to beat once the extra off days take place for the sixth and seventh games. However, I think the Pens will steal one of the games at the Joe and will take a 3-1 lead in the series. Detroit will win Game 5 at home, but Pittsburgh wins the Cup at home and take this series in 6 games.