(Ed. Note: We're kicking into high gear on the preview front. Along with this, we've got a look at big changes for the teams since the first battle; really great blogger roundtables featuring Wings and Pens loyalists; and our official preview of the Stanley Cup finals later in the day. Saturday brings video fun and our "expert" picks. Oh, and you know it's Live Blog time on Saturday night. No diggity.)
The National Hockey League does a wonderful job kickin' smarts to the fans and media about what to watch for, and care about, during the Stanley Cup finals. NHL.com has everything from videos to timelines to, like, players' birth weights and favorite crayon colors (who knew Hal Gill was a Burnt Sienna man?).
Conklin A Fixture At Big Events: Months after becoming the only NHL player to dress for each of the first three NHL Winter Classics, Red Wings goaltender Ty Conklin(notes) is making his third trip to the Stanley Cup Final -- with three different clubs -- in the past four seasons. In 2006, Conklin's Edmonton Oilers dropped a seven-game decision to the Carolina Hurricanes. Last year, Conklin's Penguins fell in six games to the Red Wings.
Along with the Gumpian exploits of a backup goalie, there are plenty of reasons to watch some puck in June. Coming up, 20 of the most compelling angles in the Cup finals.
20. Weird Postseason Voodoo: Matt Saler of On the Wings pointed out some crazy potential symmetry between these teams: Detroit has beaten the Philadelphia Flyers, Washington Capitals, Carolina Hurricanes and Pittsburgh Penguins for its last four Cups. Those would be the three teams the Penguins defeated, sequentially, to reach the finals this season, plus Pittsburgh itself. Cue Twilight Zone music.
19. The Last Hoorah for Chelios? If Jeremy Roenick(notes) is to be believed, Chris Chelios(notes) is a malcontent feuding with a belittling Mike Babcock. Which is why you don't always believe Jeremy Roenick. Truth is that Chelios is a proud Red Wings who has filled in admirably in the postseason. But being, shall we say, a veteran player of sorts, one wonders if this could be the last time we see Cheli in the NHL. Winning another Cup would be a hell of a finale ... coinciding with this summer's release of a Chelios bio-pic covering his teenage years, which co-stars Jack Black and Michael Cera.
18. Will We See Anything As Great As "The Shift" Again? Darren Helm(notes) had the shift of the conference finals against the Chicago Blackhawks in a shorthanded effort. But it's hard to top this classic bit of inspirational checking from Brooks Orpik(notes), who handed out more free candy in 15 seconds than most houses do on Halloween.
17. Malkin and Crosby > Messier: Granted, this is the kind of concocted statistic that the NHL loves to pass around because it looks fantastic sans context, but Sidney Crosby (1.43) and Evgeni Malkin(notes) (1.29) both currently have higher points-per-playoff-game totals than Mark Messier (1.25). Granted, they've both played 42 games to Mess's 236. But details are for party-poopers and poindexters.
16. The Hart Attack: Evgeni Malkin has a chance to eliminate both of his fellow Hart Trophy finalists in the same postseason. Pavel Dasyuk, meanwhile, is desperately trying to get healthy and turn around what's been a disappointing postseason after working his ass off to drop the "choker" label in previous playoff runs. Hey, there's always Game 2.
15. The Trophy Touching Jinx: Sidney Crosby touches the Prince, Henrik Zetterberg(notes) lays off of Clarence. So did Sidney's mocking of the hockey gods change the Penguins' mojo, or ensure disaster? Leahy deftly covered this incredibly vital issue yesterday.
14. Dan Bylsma, Rookie Sensation: The man who helped resurrect the Penguins' season played for Mike Babcock on the Anaheim Ducks back in 2002-03. He's trying to become the first rookie head coach to win the Cup since Larry Robinson in 2000 with the Devils, and the first ever to win while bearing an eerie resemblance to the cheerleader's dad on "Heroes."
13. Grunts vs. Grunts: You know why "Old School" is a comedy classic? Hint: Not because of Luke Wilson. The supporting cast makes all the difference for both of these teams, from guys like Craig Adams(notes) scoring huge, unexpected goals for the Penguins to guys like Darren Helm scoring game-winning goals for the Wings. The energy players like Tyler Kennedy(notes) and Max Talbot(notes) create for Pittsburgh is vital. Detroit's ridiculous depth has allowed it to continue winning through otherwise crushing injuries.
12. The Redemption of Marc-Andre Fleury's(notes) Backside: Fleury was quite good in last year's finals, better than many gave him credit for being. Unfortunately, the indelible image of the Penguins goalie from that series was his bum-bum getting the primary assist on a Henrik Zetterberg goal:
11. Attack of the Mule: Johan Franzen(notes) had 15 points in 11 games, including 12 goals, before a concussion against the Dallas Stars helped slow his postseason roll last season. He had a goal and two assists against the Penguins. This postseason, Franzen leads the Wings with 19 points. We'd say he's due for a monster finals performance, but that would bring us dangerously close to sounding like Pierre McGuire. And we don't ever plan on living in a pond, laying eggs on a beach in the moonlight or being trained as a ninja by a talking rat.
10. The Specter of Goalie Interference? Babcock went a little batty last year due to the interference calls on his players as they crashed Fleury. Since we can expect more of the same from the Red Wings forwards, should we expect more protests from the Penguins about interference?
9. While No One Wants To See This Again, We Do Want To See Jennifer Granholm Devouring a Primanti Bros. Sandwich:
8. Malkin Overcoming Last Season's Swoon: Evgeni Malkin had more points in Game 3 against the Carolina Hurricanes (4) than he had in the entirety of last season's Stanley Cup finals (3). Sick, injured, what have you; he's played like a man on a mission in the playoffs, and the mission was to redeem himself in the finals.
7. The Ratings Game: Last year, this matchup proved the unthinkable, which is that a well-marketed series with two compelling teams that have a little star power can draw national ratings for hockey. This is the first time in 25 years we've had a Cup rematch; is the bloom off the rose for a lot of fans, or is the chance for bit of black and gold revenge going to bring in an even larger viewership?
6. Chris Osgood(notes) Solidifying His Hall of Fame Case: Forget whether Osgood is or isn't an "elite" goalie; you can count on one hand the number of "elite" goalie that have gone as deep as he has in the postseason over the last 11 years. The question is whether that fourth ring and these playoff numbers are enough to earn Chris Osgood the immortality some believe he's earned. Of course, another Osgood Cup win means a potential return to the Tonight Show. Let's hope Conan does anything other than Ozzie and Nicklas Lidstrom(notes) singing "We're Bringing Stanley Back." Maybe have Triumph and Draper's kid poop on the Cup together.
5. The Conn Smythe Watch: Heading into Game 1, the official Smythe watch ranking -- 1. Evgeni Malkin, Penguins; 2. Johan Franzen, Red Wings; 3. Sidney Crosby, Penguins; 4. Henrik Zetterberg, Red Wings; 5. Chris Osgood, Red Wings; 6. Marc-Andre Fleury, Penguins; 7. Marian Hossa(notes), Red Wings; 8. Nicklas Lidstrom, Red Wings; 9. Sergei Gonchar(notes), Penguins; 10. Jordan Staal(notes), Penguins.
4. Are These Red Wings a Hockey Dynasty? Mirtle made a convincing case that the Red Wings are dynastic in their success, tracing back to when Nicklas Lidstrom joined the team as a rookie in 1991-92; since then, "the lowest Detroit has ever finished in the overall league standings is sixth, which they did in 1998-99. The Wings also haven't finished lower than third overall in the last decade. Adding another Stanley Cup to the bio solidifies that dominance.
3. Revenge Is a Dish Best Served Cold: The Red Wings are trying to become the first team to repeat as Stanley Cup champions since ... the Red Wings. Whoopee. The real story is whether the upstarts that weren't ready to win the first fight are ready to school the teachers in the rematch. And if you think that doesn't matter to fans, we've got two words for ye: "Rocky II."
2. Marian Hossa's Self-Made Destiny: Hossa's already made the right decision, because he chose a team as a free agent that's playing for the Stanley Cup. What will be proven in this series is whether Hossa picked the best team. As Dan Wetzel writes: "He thought the championship grass was greener in Detroit and was willing to take less money to find out."
1. Sidney Crosby's Name on the Stanley Cup: Alexander Ovechkin(notes) may still be the bigger star, crossing over to mainstream sports fans in a way Crosby doesn't. But within the NHL, there's no player with greater renown right now than the Penguins' captain, thanks to his remarkable postseason run and unparalleled leadership in bringing his mates back to the finals. To end that run with his first Stanley Cup would be a defining moment. And to have a star of his magnitude lifting the Cup over his head is an image the NHL is ready to plaster across the globe.