Savoring a Stanley Cup Finals Rematch

After a full 82-game regular-season schedule and three rounds of playoffs, the NHL has wound up exactly where it was one year ago, as the hockey world girds itself for a rematch of the Detroit Red Wings and the Pittsburgh Penguins in the Stanley Cup Finals. ↵

↵Excuse me if I find it impossible to complain. ↵

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↵Granted, everything old is not new again. There are new faces on both teams, and part of me is absolutely giddy at the prospect of seeing what sort of welcome the fans in Pittsburgh will have for Marian Hossa, the man who spurned the Pens last summer after helping lead them to the Finals, only to sign a one-year deal with the Red Wings because it gave him the best chance to win a Stanley Cup. ↵

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↵So how do things stack up? Here's a quick snapshot: ↵

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↵Forwards: No team wins a Stanley Cup with superstars alone, and that's been the case with both teams this postseason, especially in Detroit, where an injury to Pavel Datsyuk has kept him out of a few games and limited his effectiveness. Enter players like Dan Cleary, Valtteri Filppula and Darren Helm -- who might have played the game of his career Wednesday night in Chicago -- and you have what looks like the deeper forward corps. Pittsburgh's gotten contributions from outside the big two of Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin as well, with players like Craig Adams, Chris Kunitz and Maxime Talbot chipping in at critical moments. ↵

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↵Still, as impressive as that depth is for Detroit, it's looking more and more like Crosby and Malkin are the two best players left on the ice. EDGE: Pittsburgh. ↵

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↵Defense: For the early part of the regular season, the Penguins looked absolutely lost without defenseman Sergei Gonchar on the blue line. But since his mid-season return, things have looked a lot brighter. When it comes to Pittsburgh's defensive corps, it's not just the personalities -- Rob Scuderi has been playing lights out this playoff -- but the way they've committed to refusing to give the opposing team any room to operate inside their defensive zone, while also working hard to beat enemy forecheckers to the puck and transition quickly and seamlessly to the breakout. Combined with their fearsome forecheck up front, it's easy to see why the Penguins have been so impressive defensively. ↵

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↵As for Detroit, everyone knows about their puck-handling prowess with Nicklas Lidstrom and Brian Rafalski. And every year we continue to think of the Red Wings as a pure puck possession team, only to be reminded that they've got plenty of punch when Niklas Kronwall is on the job. Still, both Lidstrom and Rafalski have missed games with injuries in this playoff, while rookie Jonathan Ericsson missed Game 5 against Chicago with acute appendicitis. Will they be able to hold up under Pittsburgh's fearsome forecheck? EDGE: Even. ↵

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↵Goalies: Going into the postseason in Detroit, many of the big questions were about Chris Osgood and whether he had enough gas in the tank to lead the team to another title after a lackluster performance in the regular season. He's managed to put those concerns to rest, with a 12-4 record backed by a 2.06 GAA and a .925 save percentage. Those numbers best the ones posted by Marc-Andre Fleury (12-5, 2.62, .906), but Fleury has simply been a different goalie since Game 7 of Pittsburgh's second-round series against Washington. EDGE: Detroit. ↵

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↵Intangibles: Pittsburgh is healthy, has an extra day's rest heading into this weekend's back-to-back Games 1 and 2 and looked unstoppable against Carolina in the Eastern Conference Finals. Detroit is clearly nicked up, and the Wings don't have a lot of time to recover before the start of the Finals after a five-game struggle with Chicago that included three OT contests. It's clear the Penguins are hitting on all cylinders at just the right time. EDGE: Pittsburgh. ↵

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↵PREDICTION: Pittsburgh in seven brutal games. ↵

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This post originally appeared on the Sporting Blog. For more, see The Sporting Blog Archives.

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