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The Canadian Press likes Penguins and Red Wings to meet in Stanley Cup final

NHL.com @NHL

Two powerhouses meet in the West. Two teams on the rise in the East. Two toss-ups.

The NHL's conference finals could be long ones. A look at both series with predictions: Eastern Conference final - Philadelphia Flyers vs. Pittsburgh Penguins.

Many believed the Flyers would lose to Alexander Ovechkin and the Washington Capitals in the first round. Almost everybody was sure Philadelphia would be taken down by Carey Price and the Montreal Canadiens in the second round.

Now comes Sidney Crosby and his high-flying Penguins.

"I think the underdog status has gone to a new level. I'm sure people are picking us to lose this series in three games," Flyers GM Paul Holmgren, we think in jest, told The Canadian Press this week.

The Flyers won't be underestimated by their divisional and state rivals.

"I think they're clicking on all cylinders," said Penguins GM Ray Shero. "They've got a really deep forward group, an underrated defence, very good special teams and their goalie (Martin Biron) is really hot. Washington was so hot and to beat them in seven says a lot about their team."

Both goalies in this series had question marks before the playoffs, but Biron and Pittsburgh's Marc-Andre Fleury have answered their critics and then some.

"We beat Montreal in five games but it wasn't really a 4-1 series," said Holmgren. "I think three of those games Marty Biron was the show for us. But the goalie is part of the team, too."

The Flyers won the season series although did so by winning a regular-season finale that the Penguins had no interest in playing in. Before that game, Pittsburgh won three straight when it mattered by a combined score of 15-6.

"Keep in mind, near the all-star break, they were first in the East," Shero said of the Flyers. "They were a top team for a long time in the season. They played us hard. It has the makings of a great series and for the fans of Pennsylvania it should be special, too."

The Penguins have the slight edge on special teams, both clubs with red-hot power plays (Philadelphia 24 per cent, Pittsburgh 23.4 per cent). On the penalty kill, the Penguins have the best unit left among the four teams at 89.5 per cent, second overall in the playoffs. The Flyers are 12th at 77.2 per cent. They'll need to spruce that up to keep Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Marian Hossa and Sergei Gonchar at bay.

As Holmgren pointed out at the top, many will see this as a quick one given Pittsburgh's current form but Flyers centres Daniel Briere and Mike Richards will have a say in that.

This will be a grudge match.

Prediction - Penguins in seven.

Western Conference final - Dallas Stars vs. Detroit Red Wings.

The defending Stanley Cup champion Anaheim Ducks in the first round followed by a heavy favourite for the Cup this year, the San Jose Sharks, in the second round - when do the Stars get to come up for air?

"You don't, that's the thing," Stars co-GM Brett Hull told The Canadian Press this week.

Now comes the Red Wings, the President's Trophy winners as the NHL's No. 1 overall regular-season team. If one totalled up the Stanley Cup predictions before the playoffs, Detroit, San Jose and Anaheim would probably make up 90 per cent of them.

But as Hull points out, that's the penalty for fading down the stretch and finishing third in the Pacific Division - fifth overall in the Western Conference.

So the Stars simply went about knocking off one powerhouse after another. The Wings have taken notice.

"Dallas is a good team and if we're not playing at our best we won't win the series," said Wings star Henrik Zetterberg.

The Wings have a slight edge up front and a significant advantage on the blue-line where their top four sees five-time Norris Trophy winner Nicklas Lidstrom joined by Brian Rafalski, Niklas Kronwall and Brad Stuart.

The Stars, however, have the better goaltending in Marty Turco over Chris Osgood. Turco has shed his playoff demons with stellar netminding in series wins over Anaheim and San Jose. Now he has to win against a team that he's only 2-10-5 against in his NHL career, including a winless mark (0-7-2) at Joe Louis Arena.

The Wings have two scoring lines going at top gear right now, with a second unit featuring 11-goal man Johan Franzen. They want to make life miserable for the red-hot Turco.

"When we're taking shots we need to try to have people in front to screen the goalie, and get tip-ins to make it more difficult for him," said Zetterberg.

It's hard to pick against a Stars team that has eliminated two contenders. But the ultimate difference in this series may just be the mileage left on each team. The Wings swept Colorado in the second round and will have had a full week off between rounds.

"I think it was perfect," said Zetterberg.

The Stars, meanwhile, have had back-to-back gruelling series, particularly the set with the Sharks which featured a six-and-a-half period clinching game Sunday night.

"The body was a little drained (Monday)," said Stars captain Brenden Morrow, who has been dynamite. "Every time you got down in the chair, it was pretty tough getting up."

There's not much to choose from, but fresher legs and home ice....

Prediction - Wings in seven.

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