With the finals just hours away it is time for me to weigh on in what looks to be one of the best Stanley Cup matchups since 1984 (the last time the NHL had a finals rematch). Before I tell everyone my pick, here's the way I break down these two teams.
Each category is based on a scale of ten. A score of 5-5 is a push, no advantage for either team.
Advantage: Pittsburgh (6-4)
The Penguins only have a slight advantage here. Detroit made themselves even better by grabbing turncoat winger Marian Hossa. Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg no longer have to play on the same line, giving Mike Babcock two top defensive forwards on his top two lines.
The reason I give the Penguins the advantage here is because of Detroit's injuries. Datsyuk may return to the lineup, but there is no news on Kris Draper's return. With both of them back in the lineup, it becomes a push (5-5).
Let's face it, the only team that can match Pittsburgh down the middle is Detroit. No other team has players like Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Jordan Staal, and no other team would be willing to double-shift those three on a fourth line so that they could dress seven defensemen.
Add to this the aggressive forecheck and speed of Matt Cooke, Tyler Kennedy and Chris Kunitz along with the great playmaking and shooting of Ruslan Fedotenko and Bill Guerin and the Penguins look awfully tough to beat. Detroit, though, has enough talent defensively to answer the young Penguins.
Advantage: Pittsburgh (6-4)
Again the Penguins have only a slight advantage, mostly because of injury. The Penguins also get the edge here because of the fact that they are dressing seven defensemen. Dan Bylsma can rotate Philippe Boucher into the lineup anywhere and give his shutdown trio of Hal Gill, Rob Scuderi and Mark Eaton (who was injured last spring), a well deserved rest from time to time without having to make quick line changes when he realizes the person they are supposed to be shutting down isn't on the ice. Boucher also gives Pittsburgh another powerplay quarterback besides Sergei Gonchar, without having to play Malkin on the point.
Detroit is no slouch, however. Niklas Lidstrom is a Norris-trophy finalist for a reason, and he headlines an outstanding cast that includes two other future Hall of Famers (Brian Rafalski and Chris Chelios), two youngsters who play like veterans (Niklas Kronwall and Jonathan Ericsson) and Brad Stuart, who hits everything that Kronwall misses.
Advantage: Detroit (7-3)
Count me among those who said Detroit wouldn't get this far because they had issues with goaltending. I was wrong. Chris Osgood has been incredible this post-season, but I'm not quite ready to take the starting job for Team Canada away from Martin Brodeur and Roberto Luongo. Osgood has been great and deserves an invite to Olympic Orientation, but he hasn't been that great. Like his counterpart, Marc-Andre Fleury, Osgood has been shaky at times. In the decisive game against Columbus he allowed five goals on 32 shots. He allowed only two goals in the first three games against Columbus, but since then has allowed two or more goals in all but three games. Before I start sounding too negative, however, Ozzie has kept his opponants to two goals or less nine times with a record of 6-3 in those games. He has faced 30 shots or more six times and is 5-1 in those games with a .929 save percentage and a 2.21 GAA.
Fleury, for his part, has made the saves he's needed to make. He is a little too cavalier in playing the puck, and that has cost him a couple of goals this spring. However, Fleury is just as good as Osgood skill-wise and now he is starting to believe it. Last year Fleury was in awe of the Stanley Cup Finals. This year that won't be the case. Look for the same Fleury who stole last year's game five to emerge in game one and make this an even better series than last year.
Advantage: Push (5-5)
Detroit has had a remarkable powerplay this spring, while Pittsburgh has struggled. In defense of Pittsburgh, however, they have had to face two great penalty kills and an amazing goaltender along the way and has still emerged with a respectable powerplay percentage.
The weak link in the Red Wings armor is their non-existent penalty kill (73.7 percent). Against a team with the weapons that Pittsburgh has, that could be fatal. Pittsburgh's 83.6 percent may not be the best, but I'd take a penaltykill that allows one goal in every six kills to one that's allowing one in every four any day.
Advantage: Push (5-5)
Detroit has the edge on experience, but Pittsburgh made huge strides by adding three guys with cup rings before the trade deadline (Bill Guerin, Chris Kunitz and Craig Adams) and by making their way to the finals last year. Add Ruslan Fedotenko's cup ring and cup-winning goal from Tampa Bay in 2004 and you end up with a room full of hungry players who know what to expect and how to deal with it.
Pittsburgh has the edge in coaching, slightly. Mike Babcock is a terrific coach with a great record. He's been there before with Detroit and Anaheim. But he is also a very emotional coach. Sure he can keep his cool better than Joel Quinville, but so can John Tortorella. Babcock isn't prone to huge, emotional outbursts, but he has them and - as demonstrated by Quinville - that has an affect on his players.
Pittsburgh's Dan Bylsma isn't prone to emotion at all. He doesn't get emotional, he oozes a quiet confidence that has been amplified since the addition of Guerin and the return of Gonchar. He may not have all the experience of Babcock, but he never seems lost and confused like his predecessor Michel Therrien did at times last year. That confidence and passion has turned the Penguins into a serious threat.
Pittsburgh also has a day more of rest and didn't have any lingering injuries that need time to recover to at least be playable. Lidstrom, Datsyuk, Ericsson and Draper are key guys for Detroit, and all are questionable for game one.
If you don't hate me yet for talking up the Penguins, I'm picking them in seven games. Yes, I know I'm a Penguins fan and I know you'll all scream "fan pick" and everything. The fact is that the Penguins are talented, hungry and they know how to win.
Whether I'm right or wrong, this is going to be one heck of a series.