The 2008 Stanley Cup Final has been set. The Western Conference Champion Detroit Red Wings will meet the Eastern Conference Champion Pittsburgh Penguins in what should be one of the most entertaining final series in recent history.
I use the word should very loosely, however. The Red Wings should have breezed through the competition in the playoffs after being the league's best team during the regular season. The Penguins' first round series against the Senators, and second round series against the Rangers should have each gone at least six games.
Neither held true, as these two teams have taken very different roads on their respective ways to earning themselves a date with Lord Stanley, beginning on Saturday.
It's been 16 years since Mario Lemieux last hoisted the Cup after the Penguins' four game sweep of Chicago in 1992. It was the Penguins' second Stanley Cup victory in as many years.
Sidney Crosby would have been three years old at the time, and Jordan Staal the tender age of two. Evgeni Malkin was probably stick handling in his parents' basement with a plastic stick somewhere in the Steel City of Magnitogorsk, Russia. The Penguins have not returned to the Stanley Cup finals since.
For the Wings, it hasn't been quite as long of a drought. Their last Cup victory came in 2001-02. They also have not returned to the Finals since then.
The Penguins have been the most impressive team during these playoffs. They are 12-2 overall, including a stunning 8-0 record on home ice. They have been the toughest team to match up against, and have been provided with scoring throughout the lineup.
The superstars, however, have continued to shine. Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, and Marian Hossa have looked unstoppable at times, particularly when they are all on the ice simultaneously when Michel Therrien puts out his version of the Eastern Conference All-Stars on the power play.
The Detroit Red Wings seem to be the only team that can match the firepower of the Penguins. Led by the big three of Zetterberg, Datsyuk and Franzen, the Wings should provide a true test for the Penguins' young netminder, Marc-Andre Fleury.
Detroit was also the victor of the President's Trophy (given to the team with the best overall record during the regular season) this year.
In this year of surprises (the Flyers knocking off the Caps and Habs, the Pens sweeping the Sens, Franzen coming out of his shell to lead all players in goals, the performance of Marc-Andre Fleury, etc.), perhaps the two goaltenders will outshine the superstar forwards and make the series a defensive battle.
However the series plays out, watching the match-ups of Sid & Geno vs. Zetterberg & Datsyuk will be a true pleasure for fans of both teams, and hockey fans in general.
The NHL should feel very comfortable knowing that the two best teams in the league will be playing for its ultimate prize: The Stanley Cup.
Maybe, just maybe, the Red Wings will even sell out a home playoff game in "Hockeytown."
The series is scheduled to begin with Game One on Saturday, May 24 at 8:00 PMET on VERSUS.
Bring the Wing, and Let's Go Pens.
Photo courtesy of NHL.com