RALEIGH, N.C. -
"Right now there are three teams left. So we'll take a breather, enjoy winning three rounds and getting to the Final, and we'll get focused here in the next couple of days. We'll take whoever we get."
-- Pittsburgh coach Dan Bylsma
- Once the Pittsburgh Penguins
had earned their way into the Stanley Cup Final by completing a stunning sweep of the Carolina Hurricanes
in the Eastern Conference Finals, there was only one question remaining for the victors.
Who do these Penguins want to see line up across from them in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final? Do they hunger for a rematch against Detroit, the team that handed Pittsburgh a six-game defeat in last season's Final? Or would Pittsburgh rather see the supremely talented, but young and unproven, Chicago Blackhawks
in the championship round? The Red Wings lead the Western Conference Finals 3-1 and can assure themselves of a return trip to the Final with one more victory -- possibly as soon as Wednesday night at Joe Louis Arena.
"Right now there are three teams left," Pittsburgh coach Dan Bylsma
said, counting his team as part of the equation. "So we'll take a breather, enjoy winning three rounds and getting to the Final, and we'll get focused here in the next couple of days. We'll take whoever we get."
Not only is that coach-speak, but Bylsma was not with these Penguins last June. He didn't live through the loss to Detroit, a defeat that began with back-to-back shutout losses in Detroit. For those players who watched Detroit celebrate its championship on the Mellon Arena ice after Game 6, the painful images remain.
"It was a big hole we dug ourselves last year, losing those first two games against Detroit," defenseman Brooks Orpik
said. "This time, it has a more realistic feel to it. I think we are a lot better prepared this time around."
But that's as far as Orpik was going with that line of questioning.
Center Jordan Staal
felt a little more comfortable extrapolating to a scenario where he will be lined up against Detroit's top line at a rocking Joe Louis Arena in Game 1 of the first Stanley Cup rematch since the Edmonton Oilers
and New York Islanders
met in 1983 and '84.
By the way, the defending champion Islanders won the first matchup against the young and untested Oilers. The next year, with the lessons of a Stanley Cup Final under its belt, a confident Edmonton side came back to the Final and knocked off the Islanders, who had won the previous four Cups.
Would Staal like to see that history repeat itself in 2009?
"Yeah, it would be a sweet feeling to beat them," he said.
Penguins captain Sidney Crosby
struggled mightily in last year's Final, scoring just 2 goals and adding 4 assists in the six games. Throughout, he was matched against all-world defenseman Nicklas Lidstrom
. Is he champing at the bit for a taste of revenge, too?
If he is, he's playing it pretty cool.
"It doesn't matter," Crosby said Tuesday night after his two-assist performance gave him 28 points this postseason. "But I think for (the media) there's a lot more story lines if it ends up Detroit.
"It doesn't matter (to us). To get this opportunity, you know what, I think a lot of guys in there -- whether they were part of the team last year or guys who are new-- you know, we feel really fortunate to have this opportunity. And, you know, to go what we went through last year was tough. But we've got a chance here, and we want to make the most of it.
"We know that they've got a special opportunity to go at it again, and we want to take full advantage of it."
For the Penguins that was the most important thing to take out of the sweep of Carolina. They are still alive in their quest to be Stanley Cup champion. In the end, they know that it doesn't matter which team stands in their way of completing their journey. Whatever team emerges out of the West will have to be vanquished for Pittsburgh to reach its ultimate goal.
"This is a nice step to make," forward Bill Guerin
said as he sat in the visitors' dressing room at RBC Center on Tuesday night, "but this not where we want to stop."