Star-studded Stanley Cup must-see TV

ERIC FRANCIS -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 8:47 AM ET

Not even the NHL's schedule-makers can ruin this one.

Despite the league's latest boneheaded move to unnecessarily delay the start of the Stanley Cup final, hockey fans now have every reason to put down their putters, bocce balls and barbecue utensils and tune back in starting Saturday night.

Without needing five days off to hype the matchup between the Detroit Red Wings and Pittsburgh Penguins, the league has finally landed itself the sort of marquee matchup it hasn't seen since 1983 -- a series you're sure to hear plenty about over the next few weeks.

It was then the young, Wayne Gretzky-led Edmonton Oilers had their Stanley Cup plans delayed a year by a New York Islanders dynasty that won its fourth-straight title. Gretzky still loves to tell the story about how, at the end of the four-game sweep, he walked by the Islanders dressing room in which he claims celebrations were largely muted by the litany of grunts and groans from ice pack-covered Isles relieved to get through another war of attrition.

It was then, he points out, Oilers like him, Paul Coffey, Mark Messier, Jari Kurri and Glenn Anderson realized exactly what it took to complete the journey they made five of the next seven years.

Few doubt Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Jordan Staal and the Penguins will win a Stanley Cup or two -- the question is whether this is the year it all starts.

In a series headlined by superstars and shockingly solid goaltending on either side, the storyline will inevitably weave around the youthful exuberance of the Pens against the savvy veterans of the Wings. One team dominates with a relentless work ethic to match its skill, the other with an unmatched creativity and uncanny ability to control the puck three-quarters of the night.

Can the Penguins' speed and forecheck disrupt the flow of a Detroit team that has its way with most opponents?

Can Nicklas Lidstrom contain Crosby? Do the Penguins have enough defensive depth to corral the magic of Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk or the crease-front grit of Tomas Holmstrom and Johan Franzen?

Which of two goalies who have been second-guessed all year will finally cease to stop amazing? Will CBC show more press box shots of Steve Yzerman or Mario Lemieux?

For the first time in over a month -- and well over two decades of finals -- there is endless intrigue and anticipation surrounding a series.

Even lesser lights like 46-year-old Chris Chelios, Gary Roberts (who turns 42 tomorrow), embattled retread Darren McCarty and backup Dominik Hasek make for interesting sidebars.

Canadians are sure to buy back in.

All that said, it still isn't going to make much of a splash south of the border.

Heck, even in increasingly impoverished Motown, where the Wings have played in front of plenty of empty seats the last two years, Lord Stanley won't be the focus. Instead, action at The Joe will be overshadowed by the Pistons, whose NBA conference final against the Boston Celtics features games coinciding with the opening trio of Red Wings' games in the final. Good thinking, Mr. Bettman.

The old adage you'll be hearing a lot the next few days is that "you have to lose before you can win." The suggestion is that, like the '83 Oilers, you must essentially pay your dues before achieving greatness.

Forgive the Penguins for failing to buy into that theory as the team entering the final 12-2, is, quite simply, too young and naive to believe it. There's something beautiful about that.

Despite winning three Cups in the last 11 years, the Wings are mature enough to realize opportunities like these don't come along very often. They too will play with edge and desperation.

While no one should let the NHL off the hook for unnecessarily prolonging the delay between series, this one will be worth the wait.


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