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Staal excels on both side of the puck

by John Kreiser

Jordan Staal has turned up the heat in the postseason by scoring six goals in 14 games played; he had only 12 goals in 82 games during the regular season. Staal Highlights
Jordan Staal often gets overlooked on a Pittsburgh Penguins team that features Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin as its first two centers. But the Penguins' No. 3 man in the middle is every bit as responsible as they are for the team's Eastern Conference Finals victory over Philadelphia that put the Penguins into their first Stanley Cup Final since 1992.

Staal had just 12 goals in 82 games during the regular season, but has six in just 14 playoff contests. Four of those came during the Penguins' five-game victory over the Flyers in the Eastern Finals -- a series in which he also won 50 percent or more of his faceoffs in every game and played shutdown defense while averaging more than 17 minutes of ice time, a lot for someone who doesn't see much power-play time.

Detroit will undoubtedly key on Crosby and Malkin in the Final, meaning that Staal will have to produce offensively. As the center of Pittsburgh's third line, he'll also be responsible for trying to shut down Detroit's top trio of Pavel Datsyuk, Henrik Zetterberg and Tomas Holmstrom. How well he does it will have a major bearing on whether the Cup returns to Pittsburgh for the first time since 1992.
Five up -- Five players who've stepped it up:

Sidney Crosby -- He hasn't had a memorable goal or huge game, but Pittsburgh's captain has been consistently solid. He shares the scoring lead in this year's Playoffs with 21 points, is tops with 17 assists -- and at the age of 20 has become a much more complete two-way player while captaining a team that was among the NHL's worst two years ago into the Stanley Cup Finals.

Henrik Zetterberg -- If Detroit wins the Cup, Zetterberg figures to be on the short list of Conn Smythe Trophy candidates. He and Crosby share the Playoff scoring lead with 21 points, his 11 goals are one behind Playoff leader Johan Franzen, and he had four goals (two shorthanded, one game-winner) in the Western Finals against Dallas.

Marc-Andre Fleury -- Now we know why the Penguins took him with the No. 1 overall pick four years ago. Fleury has rebounded from a midseason ankle injury to put up superb playoff numbers, and is the only goaltender to have a shutout in each of the first three rounds of the Playoffs.

Marian Hossa -- Pittsburgh gave up a lot to get Hossa from Atlanta at the trade deadline, but he's paying back the Penguins with a superb postseason. Hossa topped all Penguins with nine points in the Eastern Finals against Philadelphia, and he's among the top overall scorers with nine goals and 19 points.

Kris Draper -- Not only did the light-scoring center get a goal (and get six stitches) in Detroit's Game 6 clincher at Dallas, he was dynamite in the faceoff circle, winning more than 56 percent of his draws in five of the six games in the Western Finals— including 17 of 19 (89.5 percent) in Game 5.
Five down -- Five players who haven't:

Daniel Briere -- Briere's overall playoff numbers weren't bad (9-7-16 with three game-winners in 17 games), but he did little for Philadelphia in the Eastern Finals against Pittsburgh, scoring a goal, adding an assist and finishing minus-4. The Flyers needed a big series from Briere to beat Pittsburgh, and they didn't get it.

Brenden Morrow -- Dallas' captain was the Stars' best player in their second-round win over San Jose. He struggled against Detroit in the Western Finals, scoring just one goal and adding two assist while dealing with a shoulder problem. Morrow saved the worst for last, getting just one shot on goal and going minus-3 in the Stars' Game 6 loss to Detroit.

Detroits' Daniel Cleary has only one goal since returning to from a broken jaw which he suffered on Feb. 9.
Daniel Cleary -- Cleary hasn't been the same since breaking his jaw on Feb. 9 after scoring 20 goals in 57 games. Since his return, he's had just one goal -- in the opening game of the second round. The Wings need him to provide some offense so Pittsburgh can't completely focus on stars like Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk.

Derian Hatcher -- The Eastern Finals were tough on Hatcher, who wound up spending 21 minutes a night trying to shut down Crosby & Co.  He had a tough time, going scoreless with a minus-4 rating -- as well as being in the box for two of Pittsburgh's power-play goals.

Vaclav Prospal -- Prospal was productive for Philadelphia in its victories over Washington and Montreal in the first two rounds, but contributed only one assist in five games against Pittsburgh -- a key reason the Flyers lost in five games.

Injuries, news and notes

Out -- Detroit defenseman Chris Chelios sat out Game 6 against Dallas with a nagging leg injury. Andrea Lilja dressed in his place. … Pittsburgh's Gary Roberts missed the last three games of the Penguins' victory over Philadelphia with pneumonia. He began skating again on Saturday and hopes to be available when the Stanley Cup Final begins Saturday night.

Returning -- Amazingly, Flyers defenseman Kimmo Timonen played Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Final against Pittsburgh -- after being told 10 days earlier that he'd have to miss the series due to a blood clot in his left foot. Timonen's usual partner, Braydon Coburn, wasn't as lucky. He didn't play again after taking a puck in the face early in Game 2 left him with depth-perception problems and more than four dozen stitches.

Still out -- Detroit forward Johan Franzen, the top scorer in this year's playoffs with 12 goals, missed the last five games of the Western Conference Finals with concussion-like symptoms. He's been allowed to work out, but no word yet about whether he'll be ready for the Stanley Cup Final. … Dallas forward Jere Lehtinen never returned to the Western Conference Final after leaving early in Game 2 with a leg injury. Dallas was also without checking center Stu Barnes (concussion—like symptoms) and defenseman Phillipe Boucher (hip injury).

Non-playoff teams -- Nashville's Steve Sullivan, who missed the entire season with back problems, plans to step up his rehab efforts to see how his back responds. He hasn't played since February 2007. 

The week ahead -- The hockey world takes a breather before the Stanley Cup Final begins Saturday in Detroit.

In terms of travel, this is the easiest series since 2002, when the Wings beat Carolina for the Cup. Both cities are in the Eastern time zone, and it's only about an hour between the two cities by air.

In terms of scheduling, it's every other day -- except for a two-day break between Games 3 and 4 (both in Pittsburgh) and again between 6 (in Pittsburgh) and 7 (in Detroit).

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