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Same time this year, Penguins, Wings drop the puck

by Phil Coffey / NHL.com
DETROIT – Been there. Done that. Want the T-shirt.

That pretty much sums up the Pittsburgh Penguins' approach heading into Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final on Saturday night (8 p.m. ET, NBC, CBC, RDS) against the Detroit Red Wings.

"There're no surprises this year," Sidney Crosby said during media day interviews. "We know what to expect. Even a simple thing like today, coming in we know what to expect. There shouldn't be a lot of surprises.

"You know, this year, we know our opponent. We've seen them last year, we've seen them a couple of times this year. Last year that wasn't the case. There shouldn't be any anticipation, really. We know what to do. We've got to go out there and do it."

Crosby will be leading the way. He is tied with teammate Evgeni Malkin as the NHL's top scorers in the postseason with 28 points in 17 games. Crosby is the League leader in goals with 14. Malkin is tops in assists with 16. Clearly, Crosby is taking nothing for granted this time around.

"You dream your whole life about being in that position and you work so hard, and right at that moment you never know if you're going to get another chance," Crosby said of the disappointment of losing in 2008. "Talk to a guy like Billy Guerin; he won 14 years ago and this is his first time back. So we feel pretty fortunate to get a second chance here the following year."
 
The Red Wings are just as determined to keep their hands on the Cup. Detroit is getting healthy at the right time, with defensemen Nicklas Lidstrom and Jonathan Ericsson returning to the lineup --  and there is a good chance center Pavel Datsyuk also will be back for Game 1.

"For Nick to be back in Game 1 is huge," Wings goalie Chris Osgood said. "It's going to help us on our power play, obviously. But Nick defensively is one of a kind. He's one of those guys that can shut down other team's star players on his own. So for us to have him back is going to be huge. Especially in Game 1."

Osgood sees many differences in the Penguins of 2009 as compared to the Penguins of 2008.

"Their team as a whole is different," he said. "I look at their four lines. They're a lot deeper than they were last year. They seem to be driving the puck to the net more. They're more physical down low. They're cycling more. Last year when we played them they're a little more on the perimeter. They were trying some pretty plays.

"This year it seems (Jordan) Staal and Malkin especially are taking pucks to the net. Especially wrapping it around and trying to crowd the crease. I think they don't try to score as many pretty goals as they did last year. They're happier just to score the ugly, bang-it-in-the-net goals, so that's definitely going to pose, I don't want to say problems, but we'll have to be ready for something different from them this season."

As for the Wings, Lidstrom said experience has benefitted them as well.

="I think a lot of the players gained a lot of experience from last year's playoffs and being able to win it last year," Lidstrom said. "You mentioned (Darren) Helm. Other players have stepped up, too, that had an opportunity to play. I think (Valtteri) Filppula has gotten better, gotten more experience. You can go down the line, (Mikael) Samuelsson, (Dan) Cleary. (Johan) Franzen had a good playoffs last year, he's been playing well for us now, too. So I think just knowing what it takes to play in the playoffs from last year helped us to get to this point right now."

Osgood also pointed to personnel changes that seem to have made Crosby and Malkin more comfortable.

"You learn from mistakes and move on," Osgood said. "I think they have as a team. Because they've had guys like (Chris) Kunitz and (Bill) Guerin, guys that have won the Cup before, I don't think Malkin and Crosby feel like it's all on them like maybe it was last year. Now they're part of a team.

"They just seem to me like they're a complete team as a whole. And for us, it's going to pose a challenge. It's a fun challenge. It's going to be a great series. We look at it as fun, we'll be ready and so will they."

About all that's left to do is drop the puck. And that will fall from the referee's hand Saturday at 8 p.m. ET.


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