The Detroit Red Wings ended what the hopes of a 4-game come-from-behind series steal for the Dallas Stars, sending them packing in game 6 in Dallas.
The Penguins dusted off a minor scare from Philadelphia, routing them 6-0 after dropping game 4 four to two, eliminiating the Flyers in 5.
Detroit now plays host to Pittsburgh to open up the Stanley Cup Finals series. The series gets underway on Saturday.
Getting to the finals:
DETROIT (12-4): Finished 1st in the Western Conference and in the NHL's overall standings.
PITTSBURGH (12-2): Finished 2nd in the Eastern Conference
NY Rangers (5)
For the Red Wings to win the series, all of their big guns will have to execute to perfection, and Chris Osgood will have to shake off those two rattling losses in the Dallas series to be at top form for the Penguins offence led by Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. Nicklas Lidstrom will without a doubt be as solid as rock, as he always is; he will have added motivation to capture the cup this year, as he would becomed the NHL's first European captain to do so. Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg are arguably the only other NHL duo that could duplicate the productivity of a Crosby/Malkin tandem, therefore they will need to be at top form as well. They have not faultered thus far, and I doubt they will faulter now when it means the most. Tomas Holmstrom, Johan Franzen and Daniel Cleary will need to continue wreaking havoc in the crease and will need to get in Fleury's grill early, often and effectively. Niklas Kronwall and Brian Ralaski will have to contribute steadily on the backline and aging veterans like Kris Draper and Chris Chelios will have to play their roles to perfection...the scary thing is, every player and role mentionned above is certainly not out of reach; in fact, it's expected: These Wings' players have performed superbly all season long and all playoffs as well. It would be interesting to see a Hasek appearance in this series, as his highly unorthodox style would present a scenario completely foreign to the Penguins these playoffs, who thus far have had to deal with highly orthodox goalies in the likes of Lundqvist and Biron (also Gerber, but he isn't all that great despite being orthodox). Detroit's expereience and previous let-downs in previous years in the playoffs may prove to be the intangible that gets them over the edge in this series...we will truly see if age, experience and disappointment in the past (Detroit) is more valuable than highly-talented, first-timer youth (Pittsburgh).
For the Penguins to win, Sidney Crosby and Evegni Malkin will have to find ways to stay open. They will be heavily shadowed all series long, but Detroit will HAVE to catch a penalty or two here and there, and Malkin and Crosby will surely see about 80% of each powerplay's time, which will surely lead to a few goals from either of these superstar forwards. Marian Hossa will have to continue his great playoff play this postseason, and the good thing is that Hossa has clearly been gelling at a better rate with every passing game playing alongside Sid the Kid. Sergei Gonchar will have to be a solid offensive conrtibuter, which he will be, of that I'm sure...but he will also have to continue his stellar defensive play, something which has flown under the radar these playoffs with the main focus on the young guns at forward. Pittsburgh D-line has been one of - if not, THE steadiest in the playoffs this season. They are definitely the most under-rated. The addition of Hal Gill for a couple of draft picks at the trading deadline has proven vital, as he is providing a very stabilizing presence all the while killing crucial penalties and protecting the young stars by being the first to stick up for them while on the ice. Tyler Kennedy has also been playing the best hockey of his career, as he has been demonstrating true grit and character with every shift entrusted upon him by coach Therrien. He is the first into the corners to fight for a loose puck, which is surprising when taking into account his small frame. Marc-Andre Fleury will have to step up his already sensational playoff performance just one last notch to block out a Detroit attack that can strike in all kinds of different forms and waves. He will need to officially show the world why he was drafted 1st overall. 19 year old Jordan Staal will also have to continue his outstanding two-way play, some of the best seen these playoffs of any team as well. The key to the series for Pittsburgh will be to stay out of the penalty box, eliminate Datsyuk, Zetterberg and Holmstrom from their comfortable roles, and lean hard on their defenceman, particularly the vets such as Lidstrom, Chelios and Rafalski.
It's going to be one of the best finals in recent years, that is certain. What isn't certain is the outcome. This series in all likelihood will go the distance, 7 games. It could also go 4...who knows! Basically, it boils down to experience vs. youth... Detroit has seen it's fair share of disappointment over the recent years, and will surely use that experience to stay calm all the while gunning on offence. The Pens have already learnt a great deal by just being in the Finals this year with such a young team, but one has to wonder if destiny isn't already pre-written for Crosby and Malkin to hoist the cup high already in 2008.
I believe it is.
I'm going PITTSBURGH in 7.