The quest for the Stanley Cup began with 16 teams, and three elimination rounds later, the field has been reduced to the last two.
In the opinions of the majority of hockey observers, and backed by their impressive playoff records, the Pittsburgh Penguins and the Detroit Red Wings represent the two big forces both in the Eastern and the Western conference.
The Penguins tied a NHL playoff record by winning their three first matches of every series along the way. The Senators, swept in four games, while the Rangers and the Flyers both managed to win a single game in their home building after falling 0-3 to the Penguins. A 12-2 record for three rounds is not common.
The offense never slowed down. Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Marian Hossa are producing on a great pace while players like Jordan Staal, Pascal Dupuis and Maxime Talbot can score big goals at critical times. Defense-man Sergei Gonchar, supports the offense and has valuable experience at the defense position. Another defense-man worth talking about, is the young Christopher Letang. This team is formed of young players like Staal, Fleury and Letang that are already gaining valuable playoff experience on the way to that cup final.
In net, Marc-André Fleury was very efficient. In 14 games, the Penguins' goaltender kept a 12-2 record with three shutouts. Every time the opponents were trying to come back in the score, Fleury managed to make clutch saves to keep his team ahead on the score sheet.
The Penguins did not lose a single game at Mellon Arena during the playoffs and took the lead early in their series this year.
The Red Wings have the home ice advantage for the final and also have taken the lead early in their series.
The Detroit Red Wings are also an impressive machine that rolled over their opponents on their way to the final. They have a great mix of skilled and experienced players all around their lineup. For some of them, this final represents a last shot at the Grail.
And talking about skill, how about Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk? With their stick-handling and scoring abilities, they have the power to change games by themselves.
As for experienced and specialized players, the Red Wings have a plenty. Forwards like Tomas Holmstrom, Kirk Maltby, Dallas Drake, Johan Franzen, Dan Cleary and defensemen like Brian Rafalski, Niklas Kronvall, Nicklas Lidstrom and Chris Chelios knows what their respective role is.
The first encounter is scheduled for Saturday at the Joe Louis Arena. We, as fans of this great game, expect a very disputed and exciting series. I hate the Red Wings too much to root for them, so I am biased in my prediction. In this final, I would like to see the Penguins ending up victorious.
My Prediction: Pittsburgh Penguins in six games.
(Picture: Stanley Cup.)