And it all comes down to two blue-collar towns. The Pittsburgh Penguins secured their berth in the Stanley Cup Final on Sunday by eliminating the Philadelphia Flyers in Game Five of the Eastern Conference Final on Sunday with a 6-0 victory. It's the first time that Pittsburgh has appeared in the final since 1992 when they last won the Stanley Cup. They take on the Detroit Red Wings, who eliminated the Dallas Stars in Game Six of the Western Conference Final on Monday night by a 4-1 score. The Red Wings last appeared in the final in 2002, and will be looking to win their fourth Stanley Cup in the last eleven years.
If it's any consolation, the Stanley Cup Final will mark the first meeting between the Red Wings and Penguins as they did not play each other in the regular season. However, in the 2006-07 season, the Red Wings defeated the Penguins in both games. Obviously, these teams have changed significantly in the last two years, and this series appears to be a fan's dream, so let's take a closer look.
The Detroit Red Wings come into the Stanley Cup Final as the favourite due to their overall regular season record. The Red Wings won the President's Trophy after posting a 54-21-7 record for 115 points this season. Pavel Datsyuk, Henrik Zetterberg, Tomas Holmstrom, and Johan Franzen have led the way for the Wings in the playoffs, and they'll be needed against the Penguins. However, the Penguins can't overlook the secondary scorers of the Wings - guys like Jiri Hudler and Mikael Samuelsson have benefitted from opponents keying on Datsyuk and Zetterberg. Defensively, the Red Wings boast Norris trophy nominee Niklas Lidstrom and the offensively-talented Brian Rafalski. Chris Chelios brings his normal grit. However, the defenceman who the Penguins will need to keep their heads up for is Niklas Kronvall. He's thrown some serious hits in the first three rounds of the playoffs while picking up 12 assists. Between the pipes, Chris Osgood will start the Stanley Cup Finals with his 10-2 record, 1.60 GAA, and .931 save percentage. Osgood has been very steady for Detroit, and looks to build on his stellar stats in the final.
The Pittsburgh Penguins come into the final as the best defensive team in the playoffs. They have a 12-2 record, and have only given up 26 goals-against in their 14 games. The Red Wings will have to find a way to shut down the explosive two lines that Pittsburgh boasts, led by their talented centremen in Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby. Of course, along with Malkin and Crosby come the likes of Peter Sykora, Ryan Malone, and Marian Hossa. The Red Wings have to be aware of the balance that Pittsburgh brings with to the table as the Penguins' checking line can also do major damage. Even the so-called "energy line" of the Penguins has contributed with some major goals. Defensively, the Penguins can match up with the Red Wings with Sergei Gonchar and Ryan Whitney providing the offence from the blueline. Hal Gill and Rob Scuderi will play against Datsyuk and Zetterberg as much as possible, and have to be weary of the speed of the Red Wings. Marc-Andre Fleury has been lights-out in the Penguins' net, and has provided the team with the much-needed confidence to make a deep run into the playoffs. His 1.70 GAA, .938 save percentage, and three shutouts don't even come close to describing his spectacular play thus far, and the Penguins will need more of that play if they hope to knock off the "Big Red Machine".
Personally, this series will be the kind of Stanley Cup Final the NHL has wanted for a long time. There will be goals, good defence, and spectacular goaltending at both ends of the ice, and should be decided by the team that makes the least mistakes. I have to stick to my pre-playoff prediction of the Pittsburgh Penguins winning it all, though.
Teebz' Stanley Cup Final prediction: The Pittsburgh Penguins win their third Stanley Cup in six games over the Detroit Red Wings, and Marc-Andre Fleury wins the Conn Smythe Trophy for his amazing play throughout the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Russia Wins Gold: Congratulations has to go out to Team Russia who defeated Team Canada 5-4 in overtime yesterday afternoon to win the 2008 IIHF Men's World Hockey Championship. Ilya Kovalchuk of the NHL's Atlanta Thrashers scored both the tying goal and the overtime winner for Team Russia in the win.
Rick Nash was penalized for clearing the puck over the boards in the defensive end early in the overtime period, and Kovalchuk scored his second of the game past goaltender Cam Ward at the 2:42 mark.
Dany Heatley, a force throughout the tournament, scored his 12th goal of the tournament in this game, breaking Eric Lindros' 1993 mark for most goals scored by a member of team Canada in one World Championship. He also recorded his 20th point of the tournament to tie Steve Yzerman's mark for the most points scored in a single tournament. Yzerman set the Canadian record back in 1990.
With the silver medal, both Heatley and captain Shane Doan tie goaltender Sean Burke's Canadian mark for most medals collected at the World Championship with four.
After Kovalchuk scored the winning goal in overtime, the Russians celebrated by chipping away at centre ice where a loonie had been secretly embedded in the ice to bring the Canadians luck. That loonie is now on its way to Moscow.
Congratulations once again to Team Russia, and a big thumbs-up and thank you to Team Canada. Hold your heads high, gentlemen, as you made a country proud with your efforts!
The Stanley Cup starts on Saturday night in Detroit. Steph and Elly: I don't want to hear of any fighting between you two gorgeous and intelligent women. Play nice, or I'll be forced to send Kirsten there to settle the battle. She, of course, hates Sidney Crosby and the Penguins a little more than she hates Henrik Zetterberg and the Detroit Red Wings. If you need back-up warriors, Christy will undoubtedly join Steph, while the guys from The Pensblog will join forces with Elly.
Be ready, hockey fans. There could be an unholy war started Saturday night between two teams, and several bloggers.
Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!