It's time for the game to shine again.
That was the message several members of the Detroit Red Wings expressed during Media Day on the eve before Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final against the Pittsburgh Penguins – a final that is primed to be one of the more exciting in recent memory.
"This is a great time for our game right now," said forward Kris Draper, who has won three Stanley Cups with Detroit. "When you look at what Pittsburgh has to offer and what the Detroit Red Wings have to offer, on paper this is going to be a great series. You want to enjoy it, but you've also got to make sure you're ready to play."
Judging by how they've performed through the first three rounds, both teams will arrive at Joe Louis Arena on Saturday night ready to play. Heading into the Final, the Red Wings and Penguins have lost a combined six times. Detroit won the Presidents' Trophy after finishing with the best record in the League during the regular season, while Pittsburgh nearly won the Eastern Conference despite suffering lengthy injuries to captain Sidney Crosby and goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury.
These days, though, both teams are close to being completely healthy. Detroit's Johan Franzen skated with the club on Friday and could return to the lineup as early as Game 2 on Monday night. It's all the more reason why hockey fans will be on the edges of their seats for the next two weeks.
"It kind of happens pretty fast," Draper said. "The one thing you don't want to get caught up in everything outside of the game. But with that said, being part of the Stanley Cup Final is the greatest thing that you could do. You want to take it in and you want to enjoy it, but when the puck drops it's all business-like."
The Final will also be the League's first opportunity to showcase Crosby on the sport's grandest stage. At the same time, Crosby certainly won't be the only talented player on the ice.
His teammate – Hart Trophy candidate Evgeni Malkin – has 19 points in 14 games, as does recent arrival Marian Hossa. The other side of the ice boasts two of the game's most well-rounded forwards – Detroit's Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk.
"Obviously, Sidney Crosby is the face of the game, of our game in the United States," Red Wings General Manager Ken Holland said. "Right off the bat, you've got the player that I think most people recognize the name in the United States. He's on center stage. (But) I think there's a tremendous amount of great players on both sides, besides Sidney, that fans are going to be able to watch for two weeks. I think both teams play a high-tempo, skilled game. I think it's going to be as good a series as anybody could hope for."
Just what the doctor ordered.
"I think it's great for the NHL," Detroit forward Dallas Drake said. "You've got superstars on each team. It's exactly what the NHL wanted, and they're going to get it. They led the East for most of the year, and we led the West. You've got two teams right now that are very similar."
And two teams that got here via the Draft. With a salary cap now in place, teams will be hard-pressed to reach this point without drafting wisely. Datsyuk and Zetterberg were sixth- and seventh-round selections, respectively. The Penguins' young studs – Crosby, Malkin, Fleury and Jordan Staal – were all drafted by Pittsburgh.
"Obviously, they've had really good draft choices," Detroit coach Mike Babcock said of the Pens. "They were fortunate in the years they had those draft choices that they had star players, they made the right picks.
"Their management and their coaching has gone in and done a real good job of giving them structure and focus and demand and their elite players are very elite and they're very young. If the cap doesn't get in the way, they have a chance to be very good for a long time."
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