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Stanley Cup final breakdown: Detroit Red Wings vs. Pittsburgh Penguins

Goalies Every season, when people look for reasons the Red Wings cannot win the Stanley Cup, they point to goalie Chris Osgood, right, who is viewed as the weak link. Haven't we moved beyond doubting this guy? Maybe when he was the No. 1 goalie for a second Stanley Cup last season Osgood finally earned some credibility. This season he has a .925 save percentage and a 2.06 goals-against average. Pittsburgh's Marc-Andre Fleury (12-5, 2.62 GAA, .906 save percentage) hasn't really stolen a game yet for the Penguins in these playoffs. He seems confident, but you just keep waiting for him to give up a soft goal. For some reason, that seems more likely than stealing a game.
Offense With Pittsburgh, you start, of course, with Sidney Crosby, left, and Evgeni Malkin. They are tied for the league postseason points lead with 28, and they were utterly dominant in the sweep of the Hurricanes, combining for an eye-popping 16 points in the four games. But this Penguins team is deeper than you think. Bill Guerin (seven goals, seven assists), Chris Kunitz (12 points) and Ruslan Fedotenko (six goals) have their names on the Stanley Cup. And veterans such as Max Talbot, Matt Cooke, Miroslav Satan and Jordan Staal are capable of scoring clutch goals. But clearly the Red Wings are deeper up front than the Penguins. Detroit's most skilled forward is probably Pavel Datsyuk, yet Datsyuk, who has been battling injuries, doesn't have a goal since the second game of the first round. Johan Franzen (10 goals, nine assists) leads the Red Wings in postseason scoring, and they are loaded with Henrik Zetterberg (nine goals, nine assists), Marian Hossa (six goals, six assists), Valtteri Filppula (12 points) and agitator Tomas Holmstrom. Then you have Dan Cleary, who scored only 14 goals in the regular season but has eight in the playoffs, including two winners.
Defense The big question is how injured is Red Wings defenseman Nicklas Lidstrom? He missed the final two games of the Western Conference final with the infamous "lower-body" injury. The Red Wings hope Lidstrom, right, our vote for the best defenseman in the game since Bobby Orr, will be able to play Game 1. But if he does, who knows how close to 100 percent he will be? Lidstrom not playing at 100 percent would be bad news for the Red Wings but not the end of the world because they have four other top-notch defensemen in Brad Stuart, Brett Lebda, the offensive-minded Brian Rafalski and hard-hitter Niklas Kronwall. The Penguins' leader on defense is Sergei Gonchar, who is the team's biggest key on offense after Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. He is second among playoff defensemen with 10 assists. He's battling a knee injury, and look for the Red Wings to test him physically. The rest of the Pens defense — led by Brooks Orpik, Rob Scuderi and Hal Gill — isn't flashy, but it is steady and poised.
Special teams If the Penguins are going to win this series, they need to do it on the power play, and the Red Wings have looked vulnerable on the penalty kill. Detroit has allowed 15 power-play goals in 16 games and is killing penalties at a wobbly 73.7 percent. The Penguins' power play is scary good with all that talent. Yet, Pittsburgh's 19.3 conversion rate in the postseason is much lower than that of Detroit's power play, which has scored 25.7 percent of the time. The Penguins allowed only one power-play goal against the Hurricanes in the Eastern Conference final.
Coaching Hey, doesn't Detroit coach Mike Babcock, left, always look like he just bit into a lemon? What's the guy mad about? He's got the defending champions, who look deeper than last season. Meantime, the Penguins are coached by Dan Bylsma, who took over for fired Michel Therrien on Feb. 22. The Penguins finished the regular season with an 18-3-4 record under Bylsma. That's 40 points, second most in NHL history for a coach in his first 25 games. And now Bylsma has them in the final. But a year ago, Babcock was coaching the Stanley Cup champs, and Bylsma was coaching Wilkes-Barre/Scranton in the AHL.
Intangibles The teams split the season series, with the Penguins winning a wild 7-6 overtime game Nov. 11 and the Red Wings and goalie Ty Conklin shutting out the Penguins 3-0 on Feb. 8. The Red Wings come into this series beat up, and it doesn't help that the first two games are being played on back-to-back days this weekend. The Red Wings have more experience at winning the Cup, but the Penguins have experience in the Cup final, having been there last season (and losing in six games). The most interesting story line involves Detroit's Marian Hossa, right. Last season Hossa played in the Cup final for Pittsburgh. The Penguins wanted to keep him, but Hossa took less money and a one-year deal to sign with the Red Wings, who Hossa felt had the best chance of winning the Stanley Cup. Wouldn't it be ironic if the Pens beat Hossa's Red Wings?
Prediction The Penguins looked nervous in last year's final, practically gave away two games and still pushed the Red Wings to six games. The Wings don't look as healthy as last season, and the Penguins look much better and more confident than a season ago. If Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin play like they did against Carolina, the Penguins might not

be stopped. But maybe it's all those Cups. Maybe it's how deep and experienced they are. Maybe it's the octopus. Whatever the reason, it's just wrong to pick against the defending champions. But it will be close. Red Wings in seven.

For the first time since 1984, we have teams meeting in the Stanley Cup final for the second consecutive season. In 1983, the Islanders extended their dynasty to four consecutive Cups by beating the up-and-coming Oilers. In 1984, the Oilers got revenge by beating the Islanders. Today, comparisons between this Cup matchup and that of the Islanders and Oilers are strong. The Red Wings are the modern-day version of the Islanders, a veteran team that has won four Cups in 11 seasons. With Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, the Penguins remind some of the Oilers with young Wayne Gretzky and Mark Messier. So, with that, this is our Two Cents preview of the Stanley Cup final.

* If necessary; @Ch. 8 airs All Children's Hospital telethon

Red wings vs. Penguins
Saturday at Detroit, 8 p.m., local TV TBD@
Sunday at Detroit, TBD, Ch. 8
Tuesday at Pittsburgh, 8 p.m., Versus
Thursday at Pittsburgh, 8 p.m., Versus
June 6 at Detroit, 8 p.m., Ch. 8*
June 9 at Pittsburgh, 8 p.m., Ch. 8*
June 12 at Detroit, 8 p.m., Ch. 8*

Stanley Cup final breakdown: Detroit Red Wings vs. Pittsburgh Penguins 05/28/09 [Last modified: Thursday, May 28, 2009 8:05pm]
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