Both these teams managed to finish at or near the top of the NHL standings in 2007-08 despite injuries to key players. Detroit hit some bumps in the road during the second half of the season without captain Nicklas Lidstrom and offensive defenseman Brian Rafalski, while Pittsburgh played a large chunk of its season without captain Sidney Crosby and No. 1 goalie Marc-Andre Fleury due to ankle injuries.
"This is why we're moving on -- it's a total team effort. Everybody was talking about how Pav (Datsyuk) and Hank (Zetterberg) have to dominate a hockey game, and the one thing we kept saying is, 'We know they're going to do that. We just need some secondary scoring.' That's when we're at our best." - Detroit center Kris Draper
Several weeks into the playoff journey, two hockey-crazed cities will duke it out through the two weeks to determine who will be the 2008 Stanley Cup champion. As a hockey fan, you truly couldn't ask for much more than this.
Truth be told, this series pits Goliath vs. Goliath. Both teams possess superstar forwards, as Crosby is joined by Evgeni Malkin and Marian Hossa. On the opposite side of the ice, the Red Wings counter with phenomenal two-way forwards Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk, who combined for 189 points during the regular season and are finalists for the Selke Trophy as the NHL's top defensive forward.
Both teams have also dominated their opponents in the postseason. The Penguins stormed through the first three rounds, going undefeated at Mellon Arena en route to a 12-2 record. They took a 3-0 series lead on the Philadelphia Flyers in the Eastern Conference Finals, lost Game 4 and then eliminated any doubt with a 6-0 drubbing of their in-state rivals on home ice in Game 5 to advance to the final round.
"It's nice to have an Eastern Conference championship, but I don't think it means much. I don't think when we started the Playoffs we were like, 'Hey, let's win the East.'" - Pittsburgh center Maxime Talbot
Detroit also took a 3-0 series lead in the Western Conference Finals before dropping Games 4 and 5 to the Dallas Stars -- their first two losses after a franchise-record nine-game winning streak. But just like Pittsburgh, the Wings enjoyed a convincing win in the clincher, coasting past the Stars 4-1 in Game 6 at Dallas' American Airlines Center.
Detroit will win if -- The Red Wings skate with the Penguins. Unlike previous rounds, the Penguins' skill level won't be miles ahead of their opponent. Detroit must enter the series believing it can go toe-to-toe with Pittsburgh and get the proper matchups against Crosby and Malkin, who will do everything they can to keep goalie Chris Osgood busy. Detroit could help itself by finding a way to win at Mellon Arena -- something Ottawa, the New York Rangers and Philadelphia were unable to accomplish in the first three rounds of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. While the Red Wings have home-ice advantage in this series, they'd certainly do themselves a service by picking up a win or two in the Steel City.
Detroit will also be counting on All-Star netminder Chris Osgood – who replaced Dominik Hasek as the go-to guy in the middle of Round 1 – to continue his solid play. The 35-year-old allowed just nine goals in four games against Colorado.
Pittsburgh will win if -- Jordan Staal continues to play an offensive role, which would take some pressure off the shoulders of Crosby and Malkin. While Staal only scored 12 goals during the regular season, the 19-year-old center has picked up his offensive game considerably in the playoffs with six goals in 14 games.
Also, Marc-Andre Fleury -- who has a 1.70 goals-against average this postseason -- must be as reliable as he's been through the first three rounds. Fleury made a couple of huge saves against the Flyers early in Game 5 before the Penguins pulled away. Pittsburgh has clearly fed off the momentum its goaltender has provided. Fleury has three shutouts this postseason.