Detroit vs. Pittsburgh: The Battle Begins

As we've progressed through the rounds of the NHL playoffs, the pretenders have quickly been weeded out from the contenders, and now only two teams remain in the quest to claim Lord Stanley.

The stage has already been set high for this year's edition of the Stanley Cup Finals, and there are storylines galore heading into the series. It will be a rematch of last years Stanley Cup Finals, when the Red Wings dropped the Penguins in six. It will also be yet another chance for superstar Sidney Crosby to cement his status as one of the best players in the league. And, of course, Marian Hossa, who played in the Cup final for Pittsburgh last year, is now playing for the Detroit Red Wings.

The NHL playoffs has already delivered some close series and epic contests this year, and this series should prove to be no different. Each game of the NHL playoffs is like a battle, each series a war, and if that is the case, both Detroit and Pittsburgh have both strong soldiers and smart commanders.

The fiery Detroit Red Wings are led by their veteran commander Mike Babcock, who has been in this situation all too many times before. He will look to add more glory to the Red Wings franchise.

Pittsburgh, on the other hand, is led by a less experienced yet highly effective commander in Dan Bylsma. Taking other during the season, Bylsma helped turned the Peguins around and will now hope to lead his Penguins all the way to the top.

Both Babcock and Bylsma have a group of talented soldiers at their disposal, who will look to reek havoc on the opposing team:

Detroit Red Wings: Front Line

Johan Franzen — Franzen has been an all-around solid player for the Red Wings in the playoffs. He has 19 points already and almost has an identical amount of goals and assists. Franzen always seems to shine in the playoffs, and he will be one of the players leading the charge for the Red Wings on offense.

Henrik Zetterberg — Zetterberg has been as equally effective as Franzen and he has been one of the players Detroit has turned to when the goings got rough. With 9 goals and 9 assiss, Zetterberg has proven he can score goals but also set up his teammates.

Pittsburgh Penguins: Front Line

Sidney Crosby — "Sid the Kid" has turned up the intensity in the playoffs, and it has helped the Penguins make it back to the finals. He was phenomenal against the Carolina Hurricanes and is tied with teammate Evgeni Malkin for the playoff points lead at 28. The Red Wings will need to watch out for Crosby in this series.

Evgeni Malkin — Malkin hasn't gotten the media coverage of Sidney Crosby except when he has been playing badly. But make no mistake, if the Red Wings focus all effort on Sidney Crosby, then Malkin will burn them.

Detroit Red Wings: Back Line

Nicklas Lidstrom — Anyone who has watched Lidstrom during the playoffs is well aware that he doesn't make a lot of mistakes. Lidstrom always seems to stymie opposing forwards and he also can score if necessary. The Penguins will have to get through Nic Lidstrom if they hope to claim Lord Stanley.

Pittsburgh Penguins: Back Line

Sergei Gonchar — Pittsburgh's defense has struggled at times during the playoffs, but Gonchar has been solid. He has 12 points but more importantly, has been a force in shutting down opposing forwards. The Red Wings will have to work hard if they hope to best Sergei Gonchar.

Detroit Red Wings: Last Line of Defense

Chris Osgood — The Red Wings can afford to take chances, knowing the Chris Osgood is holding down the fort. Osgood has an impressive save percentage of .925% and a goal against average of 2.06, which is second in the playoffs. Osgood is a prime time player, and if all else fails for the Red Wings, they can always count on Osgood.

Pittsburgh Penguins: Last Line of Defense

Marc-Andre Fleury — Fleury isn't as flashy as Chris Osgood, and his stats aren't as good, but in his credit, he has got the job done when he has needed to. After a couple of shaky series, Fleury was solid against the Carolina Hurricanes. He will need to keep up this solid play if he hopes to contain Detroit's potent offense.

Who will win the series?

Examining the stats and talking about which player to look out for on each team is all well and good, but games aren't played on paper. Both teams have already won a lot of battles to get to this point, but which one will win the war?

Conventional wisdom would say the Penguins would win this series, or at least that's what would be best for publicity. It would be a huge story if the Penguins avenged their loss to the Red Wings in the Stanley Cup Finals by beating them this time and winning the Stanley Cup.

Unfortunately, I'm not buying that Pittsburgh will win the Stanley Cup. Many people have said that Detroit has no passion, unlike Sidney Crosby and the Penguins. Detroit may not appear to show a lot of passion, but don't let this fool you. They are a veteran team who loves to prove that they are the best.

The best defense against the Red Wings is a good offense. If Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin can constantly attack the Red Wings and get the rest of their team going, it could in effect slow down the Red Wings' offense.

If this doesn't happen, then expect Detroit to use their run-and-gun style of offense. They will take a lot of chances and try to keep the play in Pittsburgh's end. I'm not sure if Pittsburgh's defense can contain players like Johan Franzen, Henrik Zetterberg, Marian Hossa, and Pavel Datsyuk. Marc-Andre Fleury has improved during the playoffs, but he will need the defense to be at its best.

Whatever happens, I can't wait for the Finals to get underway in what should be an exciting affair.

Pick: Detroit wins in 6

Jonathan Hamelin contributes articles on the NBA, NFL and NHL. An avid fan of the Canadian Football League, he writes to columns on the CFL, Rider Report Card and CFL Buzz.

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