The Stanley Cup Finals.
The defining moment in the hockey world each year.
And once again, a team from the hockey country will not be featured. That's right folks, no Canadian team.
It will be the perennial winners from Hockeytown against the upstart youngsters in Steel City.
A team of proven players against the first team that has people thinking "Dynasty" since the 80s. Will they start that dynasty this year?
Before I continue, I will state outright that I am a diehard Pens fan. I grew up in Pittsburgh during the Lemieux era when they won back-to-back cups. That being said, I will try to keep this as unbiased as I can.
Can the Penguins match up?
Let's look at some specific match-ups.
Now, whether or not Babcock and Therrien have these match-ups in mind is up in the air, but this is more of a question of who steps up to the plate.
Sidney Crosby v. Pavel Datsuyk
Oddly enough, you can put one of several players on both teams pitted against either of these guys, but they are the playmakers for their team.
Crosby has been fantastic since returning from his injury, setting up his fellow teammates every chance he gets while leading the league in points during the playoffs.
Datsuyk, on the other hand, has been an all-around better player. He is in the top five in most statistics this post-season.
Both have led their respective teams toward this goal and both deserve most of the recognition.
Henrik Zetterberg v. Evgeni Malkin
Arguably, along with Crosby and Datsuyk, these are the four best players we'll get to see in the series.
Had Zetterberg not slowed a bit and been hampered by injury, he may have challenged Malkin and Ovechkin for the league points title. Still he has been a force for the Wings, giving them a go-to, clutch performer when they need it most.
However, the bigger story here is Malkin. In the shadow of Sidney Crosby, Malkin shined as a complete player, but maybe not what Pittsburgh expected when they drafted him. That all changed when Crosby went down with his injury. Malkin became the Pen's saving grace, guiding them to a division crown, playoff spot, and fantastic post-All-Star break record—not to mention, he's up for a number of awards, including the Hart Trophy.
Nicklas Lidstrom v. Sergei Gonchar
Between these two guys, there is really not much to say. They both have about the same experience, both in the league and the playoffs, with the edge going to Lidstrom. But quite frankly, Lidstrom is a more complete and experienced player. He has the Norris Trophies to back it up.
Edge: RED WINGS
Marian Hossa v. Johan Franzen
The trade deadline blockbuster against the hottest player in the playoffs.
Where to go?
Got to give Hossa the edge in this one.
Many of Franzen's goals have resulted in him being in the right place at the right time rather than on skill.
Hossa has defeated his biggest obstacle of being the choke artist in the playoffs. He has played as well as Crosby and Malkin.
Franzen is a great player in his own right, but Hossa has just been that much better.
Dominic Hasek/Chris Osgood v. Marc-Andre Fleury
This is possibly the most interesting angle of this series.
If you want to ride the hot hand, you go with Fleury. He's only had 2 bad games, and they really weren't all that bad. He just didn't have his typical scoring support.
But, in the end, in the playoffs, experience is the biggest definition for a netminder.
And the Wings have not one, but two of the best clutch playoff performers of the last decade (Giguere being No. 1). Nothing beats experience for the playoffs, and the Wings have it.
Edge: RED WINGS
In the end, you have to give the edge to the Red Wings. The experience and depth is something that the Penguins simply lack. Unless Crosby, Malkin, and Fleury all get red hot throughout the series, it will fall just short.
WINGS IN SEVEN.
For the record, I will be rooting for the Pens the entire way through. They are a great team and will take it to the Red Wings more than any other team.