DETROIT -- Here we go again.
For the second straight year, the Detroit Red Wings and Pittsburgh Penguins are going back to the NHL's big dance as the Stanley Cup final begins tomorrow at Joe Louis Arena. This time the series could be much different.
While Detroit captured the 11th Stanley Cup in franchise history last spring with a six-game victory over the Penguins, the Red Wings are going to find that Pittsburgh has matured since the teams tangled a year ago.
"I really believe that Pittsburgh has a chance this time," said a Western Conference coach. "They've grown up a lot. They've got a new coach, a new outlook and they've got maturity.
"It's not just about Sidney Crosby this year. It's about Crosby and Evgeni Malkin.
"(Malkin) has taken his game to another level. People were quick to jump on him last spring. They might not have that opportunity this time. Maturity and Malkin are going to be the biggest factor for the Penguins."
With those thoughts in mind, here's how the coach breaks down the Stanley Cup final:
FORWARDS: Essentially, this is going to come down to Detroit's Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk vs. Crosby and Malkin. That will depend on Datsyuk's health, of course, after he missed part of the West final against the Blackhawks with a lower-body injury. "If he's not 100%, then this changes dramatically, but it's going to be Detroit's top forwards against Pittsburgh's top forwards," said the coach. "Everybody feeds off these guys. If they're going, then the whole team is going. But I really think the Wings have their hands full this time around. Lots of people talked about Crosby vs. (Alex) Ovechkin in the second round. That was a good battle, but Malkin is a franchise player all by himself. He has really grown up and he's hungry.
While the Wings forwards have plenty of experience, the Penguins have shown they can learn pretty quickly. "There isn't a lot to choose from after the top four guys. Marian Hossa is playing against his former team, but just being in the Cup final should be motivation enough.
DEFENCE: The Wings have the top blueliner in the world, Nicklas Lidstrom.
Enough said? His health is a concern after missing the final two games of the series against the 'Hawks. "Well, he's not only the best defenceman in the game, he might be the best ever," said the coach. "At this stage, there might be nobody who can touch this guy. What he has done is amazing. He means so much to that team. He could be the difference in this series and he's got a big challenge with the Penguins."
Pittsburgh's defence isn't nearly as flashy or mobile as the Wings'. Detroit has got guys who can skate and move the puck. Other than Sergei Gonchar, who's been playing with a heavily braced right knee, Pittsburgh just doesn't bring that option. The Penguins don't have much mobility. "The Wings have guys who can move the puck, the Penguins have guys like Hal Gill that just aren't mobile.
To me, the Wings have a huge advantage here," said the coach. EDGE: Detroit.
GOALTENDING: Chris Osgood has three Stanley Cup rings -- one as a backup -- but still gets no respect. He didn't have a strong regular season, but he has been one of the top goaltenders in the post-season. "He has gotten the job done at the time of year when it means the most," said the coach.
"That's all that matters. People like to dump on Osgood, but all he does is win. I heard a discussion the other day about his eligibility for the Hall of Fame. Osgood has better numbers than some of those guys who are in there already," said the coach. As for Marc-Andre Fleury, he has a lot to prove after going to the final last year.
"He's had a great playoff, but he's like Ed Belfour and Dominik Hasek, he has to win his first to make a name for himself," said the coach. Osgood has the pedigree. EDGE: Detroit.
COACHING: Dan Bylsma has guided the Penguins to the promised land. Now, he has to make sure they perform. Not bad for a guy who was coaching the club's AHL affiliate at the start of the season.
Detroit's Mike Babcock has been here before. He knows what it takes and he's got one Cup win under his belt.
"I don't really think there's any comparison here," said the coach. "Bylsma is still trying to earn his way. Babcock has done it already. He has nothing to prove. Watch the Wings, they never change the way they play. They can be up 5-1 or down 5-1, they don't do anything differently. They just play the same way and have success. He's got them disciplined." EDGE: Detroit
INTANGIBLES: The Wings have the experience. "It means everything," said the coach. There isn't going to be any pressure on the Wings to repeat.
"The only pressure will be internal. They will want to get this done themselves. They won't care what anybody outside is saying. That's what has made them such a successful organization," said the coach.
"I have a feeling this is going to be a great series. The Wings will win, but they're going to have to work for it." EDGE: Detroit
THE COACH SAYS: Detroit in 7