Looking at the Stanley Cup finals

(4) Pittsburgh Penguins (45-28-9, 2nd, Atlantic) vs. (2) Detroit Red Wings (51-21-10, 1st, Central)

2008-09 SERIES: Red Wings, 1-0-1

LEADERS: Pittsburgh – Jordan Staal (2 GP, 3G, 1A); Sidney Crosby (2 GP, 1G, 2A); Evgeni Malkin (2 GP, 1G, 1A); Max Talbot (2 GP, 1G, 1A); Marc-Andre Fleury (2 GP, 1-1-0, 4.39 GAA). Detroit – Pavel Datsyuk (2 GP, 3G); Marian Hossa (2 GP, 1G, 2A); Jiri Hudler (2 GP, 1G, 2A); Nicklas Lidstrom (2 GP, 3A); Ty Conklin (1 GP, 1-0-0, 0.00 GAA, 1 SO); Chris Osgood (1 GP, 0-0-1, 6.56 GAA).

"It was a really tough decision for me to make. When I compared the two teams, I felt like I would have a little better of a chance to win the Cup in Detroit." Former Penguin Marian Hossa after joining the Red Wings on July 2, 2008.

Roughly a year ago, Marian Hossa’s debut as a Stanley Cup finalist ended in disappointment.

Just over three months after coming over from a franchise where moribund would be considered high praise, he could only watch as the Detroit Red Wings skated around Pittsburgh’s Mellon Arena after having won their fourth championship in 11 years.

Now, he gets the chance to extend the NHL’s current dynasty and win his first championship at the expense of the talented team he spurned – and disparaged – starting on Saturday night.

“It is ironic,” the Slovak said with a smile Wednesday following a 2-1 overtime win over Chicago to capture the Western Conference title. “And it is the situation. Back-to-back finals, same teams and I switch teams. But right now I’m with this team and I’m trying to help this
team win the Cup.”

When a deal was swung with Atlanta in late February 2008 to acquire Hossa, the Penguins thought they were getting the final piece to the puzzle that was going to bring the Stanley Cup back to the Steel City for the first time since the mulleted Lemieux-Jagr heydays of the early ‘90s.

Even though they had young stars Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Marc-Andre Fleury, the Pens still needed an experienced hand. At just 29, Hossa was a 10-year veteran on the verge of 300 career goals.

Come the postseason, Hossa shined despite his team losing. He scored a team-high 12 goals – three coming in the finals – was second with 26 points and tied for second with five game-winning goals.

Then the floodgates opened. Edmonton looked to make a splash behind new billionaire owner Darryl Katz, offering a reported $70 to $80 million. Pittsburgh was willing to part with $49 million for seven years.

But four weeks after seeing what could be, Hossa made his decision. One year. $7.45 million. Detroit.

Apparently, if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em. And to this day, Hossa unwaveringly stands by his choice.

“Being in the Finals is the motivation,” he said. “Another chance.”

That’s all Pittsburgh wants. Given the way they have gone through their competition, they’re making the most of it.

“To get this opportunity, you know what, I think a lot of guys in there whether they were part of the team last year or guys who are new, you know, we feel really fortunate to have this opportunity,” Crosby said after the Penguins closed out a sweep of Carolina in the Eastern Conference finals with a 4-1 win on Tuesday.

Detroit and Pittsburgh are Rust Belt towns, but while the Red Wings are banged-up, they're still a highly-polished unit. This year, the Penguins seem to be the hungrier club, more in touch with their blue-collar roots.

Cross-state rival Philadelphia gone in six. Down two games to Alex Ovechkin and Washington? Caps out in seven. Easily handling Carolina after it dispatched top seed Boston.

Having the top two scorers in the postseason helps.

Much like Lemieux and Jagr carried the Penguins nearly two decades ago, Crosby and Malkin are doing the same now. They each have 28 points - the captain with an NHL-best 14 goals, the Russian setting the pace with 16 assists.

Crosby appreciates the comparisons to the franchise's top two all-time greats, but there's one glaring difference: Lemieux and Jagr won championships.

“As far as me and Geno are concerned, it's when we do our best to contribute and help the team. As I said before, he and Jagr are guys who have proven it year after year, you know, being the one-two punch like that. They've won cups and, you know, we've yet to do that. … But it's a compliment, and we'll try to keep going the same way."

Last season, they combined for 49 points, with none coming in the first two games of the Cup finals. In fact, no one did - the Penguins were blanked in both contests.

Speaking in Detroit on Friday, Crosby was clear that wouldn't happen this time.

"We know our opponent,'' he said. "Last year that wasn't the case. There shouldn't be any anticipation, really. We know what to do. We've got to go out there and do it."

THE PICK: Detroit was the last team to win back-to-back Cups in 1997 and 1998, but in you believe in karma, Hossa will skate away disappointed … again. PENGUINS IN 7

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