PITTSBURGH (AP) -Gretzky, Messier and Kurri. Crosby, Malkin and Staal.
Twenty-five years apart, so much in common.
The 1983 Edmonton Oilers, led by a player barely out of his teens who already was an NHL scoring champion and MVP, breezed into the Stanley Cup finals by losing only one game in three preliminary rounds. They were the NHL's team of the future, and everybody knew they were good.
Then, the not-yet-champion Oilers of Wayne Gretzky, Mark Messier and Jari Kurri ran into the three-time defending champion New York Islanders. Edmonton's initial Stanley Cup finals appearance lasted only four games, and four losses.
Now these 2008 Pittsburgh Penguins, led by a player barely out of his teens who already is an NHL scoring champion and MVP, are sailing into the Stanley Cup finals after losing only twice in the opening three rounds.
Oh, yes, these Penguins were the first team to win 11 of their first 12 playoff games since those '83 Oilers.
Up next in the Stanley Cup finals for Pittsburgh are the Detroit Red Wings, an established team that has won three Cups since 1997 and, with a mostly veteran team, is similar to those early '80s Islanders. Their 46-year-old defenseman, Chris Chelios, was a Stanley Cup champion before the Penguins' Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Jordan Staal were born.
Right about now is where the Penguins say enough already with the comparisons to the Oilers.
That was then and this is now, the Penguins say, and just because it took a failed trial run for Edmonton to win a Cup a quarter-century ago doesn't mean the same must happen to them.
"I don't think about comparisons," coach Michel Therrien said Wednesday. "There's no doubt we've got a good, young group. They're learning quickly, they're a mature group, they're talented, they're focused right now and working very hard. ... And, with all due respect, those (Oilers) are teams that won Stanley Cups. We haven't won anything yet."
In 1983, the Oilers hadn't won a Cup yet, either. After losing to the Islanders, they would win four of the next five Cups.
"I read Wayne Gretzky's book and we'll approach it with our players," Therrien said. "I remember a quote of Wayne's that they thought they had given everything. But when they (Oilers) crossed in front of the (Islanders') dressing room, there was not much celebration because they had ice packs on their bodies. That's the price you've got to pay to win the Stanley Cup."
Don't tell Therrien these Penguins, many of whom were drafted within the last four years, aren't ready to pay such a price against a Red Wings team that won the Cup in 1997, 1998 and 2002 and is coming off its eighth consecutive 100-point season.
"Right now, we've got a young group that's paying the price, and there's a lot of bumps and bruises," Therrien said.
Crosby, in the Cup finals in only his third NHL season, has been compared to Gretzky since he was a toddler. So hearing about Gretzky yet again is nothing new.
What Crosby dislikes is the talk that these Penguins, like those '83 Oilers, don't know enough yet about what it takes to beat a team as experienced as the Red Wings. That talk emanates in part from the similarities in ages between the '83 Oilers and '08 Penguins.
In the 1983 playoffs, defenseman Paul Coffey was 21, Gretzky and Messier were 22, Jari Kurri was 23. Now, Staal is 19, Crosby is 20, Malkin and Kris Letang are 21, Marc-Andre Fleury is 23.
"We've earned the right to be here. We beat three solid teams, we had a tough regular season. We earned our right," Crosby said. "I think we can say that with complete confidence. We've really earned our right to be here and give ourselves this opportunity, and we want to do the most with it."
These Penguins don't want to be remembered merely for reaching the finals so early in most of their careers, Crosby said.
"You ask people, they can't tell you who the Eastern Conference champion was in 19-whatever," Crosby said. "That's not why we play. I don't think we're happy just to be here."
Staal believes the Penguins' relative inexperience might be an advantage. They are treating the finals as just another playoff round, he said, and aren't getting overly excited even though the Cup is only four victories away.
"I think we're a little naive in this dressing room, a few players, we really don't know what's going on," Staal said. "But everyone is having fun and playing hard and taking everything in stride."
Much like the '83 Oilers? Maybe not.
Crosby said there is more parity in the NHL now than in 1983 when, he said, "They were going into a building that night knowing they could play OK and still win. That's not the case in the league anymore."
To Crosby, that's one reason why there's hardly any basis for comparing teams of different eras and styles.
"We're used to comparisons, we've had a lot of that," Crosby said. "I don't think we're putting any thought into that. We're just trying to get ready."