DETROIT (Reuters) - A rare Stanley Cup rematch is set to bring the NHL postseason to a captivating climax with the Detroit Red Wings seeking to claim back-to-back championships against the Pittsburgh Penguins.
For the first time in 25 years, the season will end with the same two teams fighting over the Stanley Cup and while sequels rarely deliver the drama of the original, the Wings’ and Penguins’ spirited play through three punishing playoff series has offered signs that the best may be yet to come.
Certainly much of the Penguins motivation can be found rooted in last year’s defeat, watching sullenly as the Red Wings hoisted the Cup and celebrated on Pittsburgh’s own ice.
For nearly 12 months those scenes have gnawed away at the Penguins, who do not deny there is sense of unfinished business in their locker room.
“To go through what we went through last year was tough,” admitted Penguins captain Sidney Crosby. “But we’ve got a chance here and we want to make the most of it.
“You don’t expect to get there. You work for it but at the same time its relief.
“Sometimes you get that far and you never get another chance to go at it for a while.”
Not since the Edmonton Oilers, led by the “Great One” Wayne Gretzky and New York Islanders in 1983 and 1984 have the same two teams played in consecutive Cup finals.
Detroit needed six games to put away Pittsburgh last year and it would come as a no shock this time if the final, which opens on Saturday in the Motor City, were to go a maximum seven games.
The Penguins march into the final riding the momentum of a 4-0 sweep of the Carolina Hurricanes in the Eastern Conference championship while the Red Wings were nearly as clinical disposing of the Chicago Blackhawks in five games to take the Western Conference title.
Pittsburgh are led by two of the NHL’s most dynamic young talents in Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, who have both elevated their games to new levels during the postseason.
Malkin, a Hart trophy finalist as league MVP, led the NHL in scoring during the regular season and has not lost his scoring touch in the playoffs.
The Russian has 12 goals and 28 points to leave him tied for top spot in the playoff scoring race alongside Crosby, the Penguins’ talisman, who combines a magician’s wizardry with the tough, blue collar work ethic bred into Canadian ice hockey players.
Playing in their fifth Stanley Cup final in 12 seasons the Red Wings are the gold medal standard by which other NHL teams are judged.
While the Penguins bring a championship hungry, emotional edge to their play Detroit operates with a cool efficiency.
Detroit opened last year’s Stanley Cup finals with two shutouts on home ice and the reeling Penguins were never able to fully recover.
This year with the Cup finals about to start it is the battered Red Wings trying to recover from a spate of injuries that left Hart trophy finalists Pavel Datsyuk and Swedish captain Nicklas Lidstrom, a six-times Norris trophy winner, out of the Detroit line-up for the final two games of the Western final.
Editing by Peter Rutherford