Drop the puck, Already!

STEVE SIMMONS

, Last Updated: 7:57 AM ET

DETROIT -- The buildup has almost been Super Bowl-like, with a World Series twist: Five days of waiting for the puck to be dropped on the most anticipated Stanley Cup final in years.

Will it be Sidney Crosby or Pavel Datsyuk? Henrik Zetterberg or Evgeni Malkin?

Two teams of great speed and skill and great stars -- who didn't play each other this NHL season -- are about to begin a best-of-seven series tonight.

Maybe the hard part for the Detroit Red Wings and the Pittsburgh Penguins will be meeting all the expectations.

"It's not like we haven't seen Crosby and Malkin before," said Kris Draper, the veteran Red Wings forward. "We've seen them every night on TV, in the highlights. They're on over and over. When you're watching them, you know you're talking about the future of the game."

He did say future.

"I didn't say present," said Draper with a veteran smile.

That is the test for Crosby at age 20, and Malkin at 21. Nobody their age has ever been asked or even succeeded in leading a team to the Stanley Cup. Anyone who has tried has failed.

"You play to win," said Crosby yesterday. "Not to be here."

When asked about the array of stars in this Cup final, from all-world defenceman Nicklas Lidstrom to Malkin and Crosby, Zetterberg and Datsyuk, a surprising old goalie and a surprising young one, Crosby said: "You'll see a lot of these same guys at the NHL Awards. But first, there is this rather large trophy to play for.

Ken Holland has been this far before, winning three Cups with Red Wings teams that included Steve Yzerman, Brendan Shanahan and Sergei Fedorov. This is a different time, a different team, but a feeling the hugely successful general manager has felt before.

"The greatest series I was ever involved in watching personally was the '02 third round when we played Colorado and we beat them in seven games," said Holland. "When we had the puck, you felt like you were going to score. When you didn't have the puck, sitting in the press box, I was scared spitless ...

"I anticipate it's going to be the same type of series ... There's a possibility that a goal could be scored every shift. When the other team has the puck, you'll be hanging on and you gotta make sure you take care of business.

"And I think there's going to be some great goals, some great plays and obviously we've got we've got great players here in Zetterberg and Datsyuk. I think that people haven't realized how good they are ... So I think it's going to be as good a series as anybody could hope for."

For Mike Babcock, the Red Wings coach, his plan going into the series is to match skill against skill. And may the better skill players win. When asked how he was going to coach against Crosby (for some reason Crosby gets more attention than Malkin, who is either his equal or a bigger, better version of the same), Babcock didn't hesitate to answer.

"Good question. I've never coached against him, never in the Stanley Cup playoffs, so I donit have any idea.

"I think you could ask them the same thing? What are they doing to do to Z (Zetterberg) or Pavel? And they're good players. And you're not going to stop them. That's impossible. But you're going to try to slow them down and try to be in good spots defensively.

"Either way, there's going to be good players both ways. There will be a five-man unit against both of these types of players and we'll see what happens. That's why as Kenny was saying, this series has a chance to be very exciting, because the players on both teams are very good players."

Crosby and Zetterberg are tied in playoff scoring with 21 points each. Malkin and Datsyuk, along with Marian Hossa of Pittsburgh, are next in playoff scoring with 19 points. Johan Franzen, with 12 goals in 11 games and out at least for Game 1 of the final, leads in goals. So let the lights come and let the series begin. It is time for the stars to come out and play.

Time for a Stanley Cup final for the young and for the ages.


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