Pens want a second chance

MIKE ZEISBERGER, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:13 AM ET

RALEIGH -- With the stars -- make that superstars -- beginning to align themselves properly in the hockey universe, the Pittsburgh Penguins and Detroit Red Wings appear on a collision course to meet for a second consecutive time in the battle for the sport's Holy Grail.

And if you believe in learning from the past, then history could very well be on the side of Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and company.

With both the Pens and Wings just one victory away from winning their respective conference finals, we could see a repeat of Stanley Cup finalists for the first time since the New York Islanders and Edmonton Oilers played for all the marbles in both 1983 and 1984.

At the time, the Islanders were the class of the NHL, having reeled off three consecutive championships heading into the '83 final against the upstart Oilers.

Led by grizzled veterans Denis Potvin, Mike Bossy, Bryan Trottier and Billy Smith, the Islanders easily disposed of Wayne Gretzky, Mark Messier and the Oilers in four consecutive games, outscoring them by a whopping 17-6 in the process.

But the Oilers learned from the butt-kicking they took, and, 12 months later, they would have the last laugh, capturing the 1984 title by dumping the Isles in five games, snapping New York's impressive run of four consecutive Stanley Cups.

One dynasty ended, another started.

Now, with the curtain poised to rise on Pens-Wings II, the parallels with that Oilers-Isles matchup are far too obvious to ignore.

A year ago, the Wings won their fourth Stanley Cup in 11 years by beating the Pens in six games, the final four being one-goal affairs. The Pens were forced to watch the Wings skate around Mellon Arena carrying the battered silver beaker, all the while hoping they might get another shot at the Wings.

It's starting to look like they will get their wish.

The plucky Carolina Hurricanes looked like a team siphoned of its spirit after a 6-2 loss to the Pens in Game 3 of their best-of-seven Eastern Conference final. And while Crosby is saying all the right things, such as: "This series isn't over yet," it would take a miracle for Paul Maurice's team to overcome this hurdle.

Especially with the way Malkin and Crosby are playing, having combined for 14 points in the first three games.

Nothing is etched in stone, but if Carolina can't find a way to slow down Pittsburgh's dynamic duo, it will be difficult to stop the bleeding.

Maurice is running out of options to prolong the series. Goalie Cam Ward, one of the best in the biz, has been beaten 11 times in the past two games. Snipers Eric Staal and Ray Whitney have yet to find the back of the net in this series. Add up those factors, and the momentum is all Pittsburgh's.

Meanwhile, in the Western Conference final, the Wings took a stranglehold by drubbing the Chicago Blackhawks 6-1 yesterday to take a 3-1 lead in that series.

The defending champs accomplished that feat without the services of key cogs like Nicklas Lidstrom, Pavel Datsyuk and Kris Draper, making the win even more impressive and allowing Detroit to move one step closer to a potential rematch with the Pens.

Should it play out that way, the Wings will occupy the role of the aforementioned Islanders teams, an experienced lot led by the Lidstroms, Zetterbergs and Osgoods. The Pens, meanwhile, are the modern-day Oilers, with young studs Crosby and Malkin leading the way a la Gretzky and Messier.

If so, can the Pens follow in the Oilers footsteps and upset the old guard?

Either way, it stands to be wonderful theatre should it transpire.


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