It is strange how nobody has talked about the Detroit Red Wings as Stanley Cup contenders for most of the season.
You know, the team that won the President's Trophy -- again. The team led by Henrik Zetterberg, Pavel Datsyuk, and Norris... err, I mean, Nicklas Lidstrom.
The team coached by coach of the year candidate Mike Babcock. The team with three Stanley Cups in a little over a decade. The team that plays in a city that calls itself Hockeytown.
Yes, those Detroit Red Wings. Some would say the Wings are back, but did they ever go away?
Sure, there's been some disappointing playoff runs since their last Stanley Cup in 2002, but disappointing takes on a different tone in Hockeytown. Last season, the Wings made the conference finals and were less than a minute from going up 3 games to 2.
Of course, Anaheim came back to win that series and the Stanley Cup, but Detroit learned from the experience. After a transition period where the Wings adjusted to life without the likes of Steve Yzerman and Brendan Shanahan, the stars seem aligned for Detroit to return to the Stanley Cup Finals.
Now, about those Stars. Dallas might have something to say about it, especially after an impressive six game series against San Jose. Marty Turco is playing some of the best hockey of his career, and his pad save in the first overtime Sunday -- the one earmarked for the top corner -- certainly ranks among the season's best stops.
But it is not all goaltending for the Stars. Brenden Morrow has been the best player in the NHL through the first two rounds of the playoffs, dominating in a manner reminiscent of Mark Messier.
Still, it is hard not to consider Detroit the favorite. They play a puck possession style that frustrates opponents in a very different manner than most systems. Simply put, if the league kept time of possession, the Red Wings would lead the league by a large margin.
Look for a competitive series, but Detroit should take it in six games.
EASTERN CONFERENCE PREVIEW:
With just one loss through two rounds, many are quick to anoint the Pittsburgh Penguins as Stanley Cup Champions.
They have two of the league's best players in Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. The trade deadline acquisition of Marian Hossa has paid dividends. And Marc-Andre Fleury is playing some of the most consistent goaltending of his young career.
Considering those tidbits of information, why does it seem Philadelphia might be poised to go to the Stanley Cup Finals for the first time in more than a decade?
These Flyers are on a roll. They have not necessarily been the better team the first two rounds if you break down the game minute by minute, but they've been the best team when the chips are down. Philadelphia has been tenacious, aggressive, and relentless -- in other words, they've been the Flyers.
R.J. Umberger has become a household name in the playoffs, while Marty Biron has been outstanding between the pipes. Daniel Briere has shown why he got a huge contract last summer. The defense, questioned by some, has been plenty good enough to win.
The Flyers knocked off Washington, arguably the hottest team in the league down the stretch, in the opening round. In the second round, they handled heavily favored Montreal in just five games.
It will not be easy, and it will be physical. These two teams do not like each other at all, which should make for some good hockey.
Pittsburgh will unquestionably win more than one Stanley Cup in the coming decade if they are able to keep the team together. Yet these Penguins have yet to face their first real tough test. In the first round, they swept an Ottawa team in turmoil, while the Rangers seemed to be at less than full strength in the second round.
It could be the Penguins really are that good, and they've made everyone look bad so far. Yet most great teams have to stumble before they walk, lose before they learn to win.
This one could go either way, but call it a hunch -- Flyers in seven.