Stanley Cup Finals Preview

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THE DYNAMIC DUOS

There is plenty of star power in this series, starting with Pittsburgh’s precocious pair of Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin and Detroit’s duo of Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg. With apologies to Ottawa and Tampa Bay, these are the two greatest 1-2 punches in the NHL.

The difference between the pairs, if there is one, is paper thin. Pittsburgh’s stars are better defensively than they get credit for, while Datsyuk and Zetterberg are incredible two-way performers. Maybe the Penguins have a slight edge here because Crosby and Malkin play on different lines and can cause matchup headaches for opposing coaches.

THE SUPPORTING SNIPERS

This is where the Penguins’ offensive depth comes into play. Marian Hossa has found playing with Crosby to his liking, while Malkin’s linemates Petr Sykora and Ryan Malone combined for 55 goals. Jordan Staal also has found his scoring touch after a sophomore slump in the regular season with six postseason goals.

Detroit’s Johan Franzen has been the king of secondary scorers in the playoffs with 12 goals, but his availability is in question because of concussion-like symptoms. With him, the Red Wings are even in this category. Without him, the Red Wings rely on their top line a little too much.

THE GOALIES

Marc-Andre Fleury wasn’t supposed to perform like this on this stage. Chris Osgood wasn’t even his team’s starter when the playoffs began. Still, both have been the two best goaltenders in these playoffs and a big reason why their teams are here.

Osgood has never been given enough respect for his play, but he has been in this situation before. Fleury may be the more talented netminder, and this postseason has been his coming out party. Again, this category is almost too close to call and could well be the difference in the series.

THE BLUE LINE

Detroit’s defense corps might be the deepest in the league. Nicklas Lidstrom is the best player at his position of his generation and among the top three or four of all time. Nicklas Kronwall’s open-ice hitting has been a boon for a team once considered too soft to make this run.

Sergei Gonchar might be the second-best defenseman in this postseason, and his defensive improvement has been huge. The addition of Hal Gill might have been as big as Hossa. Ryan Whitney and Kris Letang are both offensive-minded but have played well together at both ends. The Red Wings have the advantage here, but the gap is not as wide as it was a few months ago.

THE X-FACTORS

The biggest advantages for the Red Wings are their experience (10 players have combined for 23 Cup wins) and their prowess in the face-off circle, one of the Penguins’ biggest weaknesses. The return of Franzen also could be the key development for Detroit.

Pittsburgh’s trump card could be Jordan Staal. He’s only 19 (the first teenager to play in the finals since 1997), but if he can help keep the Datsyuk-Zetterberg line from dominating the series and continue to chip in offensively, it would enhance the team’s chances. The Penguins also will counter Detroit’s experience with youthful legs, but picking a winner with any significant confidence would be tough in an evenly matched series.

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