DETROIT - Sid the Kid is set to take on Hockeytown.

With all due respect to the NHL's other 28 teams, no other Stanley Cup Finals matchup could sizzle quite like this one.

Sidney Crosby has lived up to the hype, and in his third NHL season has the Pittsburgh Penguins in the Finals for the first time since 1992 - when Mario Lemieux took the black and gold to the title.

To earn their third championship, the Penguins will have to overcome Henrik Zetterberg, Pavel Datsyuk, Nicklas Lidstrom, and the rest of the Red Wings. It all starts tonight in Joe Louis Arena, where fan-tossed octopi will smack the ice as they have for decades of playoff hockey in Detroit.

If a matchup ever was going to capture the attention of the casual sports fan and make the NHL matter during its showcase event, this seems to be the one.

"It remains to be seen. I can't say I hope this series goes long," 46-year-old Red Wings defenseman Chris Chelios said yesterday. "On paper it's so even - the stats, the matchups. You look at the rosters and there are stars and skill.

"I couldn't think of a better matchup, and I think everybody is happy that this is the way it ended up turning out."

The Red Wings are making their first appearance in the Finals since winning the championship in 2002 over Carolina in the last title series played entirely in the Eastern time zone. Detroit is the last team to repeat as champion, doing it in 1997 and 1998 - six years after Pittsburgh pulled off the feat.

Crosby already has a scoring title and MVP award on his mantle. Now, he is four wins from a championship.

Red Wings general manager Ken Holland called him "the face of the game" moments before Crosby took the podium in Detroit for the first time since the Penguins arrived.

"I don't think I pressure myself to be that," the 20-year-old center said. "I've always tried to be a good professional and tried to be a good role model, but I don't think I let that hang on myself. There's a lot of great players in this league and guys who can bring excitement to the game."

A lot of them will be on display - from Zetterberg, Datsyuk and Norris Trophy favorite Lidstrom, to Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Marc-Andre Fleury on the Penguins' side.

Missing from Game 1 will be Red Wings star forward Johan Franzen, who hasn't been cleared by doctors to return to game action following concussion-like symptoms. Franzen, who has been out since Game 2 of the Western Conference finals, practiced for more than an hour yesterday with teammates but said he was not playing tonight.

"I'm out of shape, but otherwise I felt good," said Franzen, the NHL leader this year in postseason goals with 12. "We'll do some testing [today]. It wasn't clear to me exactly what I have to do. It's day to day, checkups every day."

Pittsburgh's Gary Roberts also will miss the opener. Roberts, who turned 42 yesterday, said he has recovered from leg injuries and a bout with pneumonia, but he was told that coach Michel Therrien would keep him out of the Penguins' lineup.

Ex-Red Wing loses lawsuit.

A federal jury rejected a request to award former Detroit Red Wings defenseman Vladimir Konstantinov and a former team masseur nearly $300 million for a 1997 limo crash that left them with disabling brain injuries.

The jury deliberated for 90 minutes before deciding that Findlay Ford Lincoln Mercury, the Ohio dealership that sold the limo, was not responsible for the injuries the two sustained.

James Feeney, an attorney representing the dealership, told the Detroit Free Press that the seven-person jury returned a "common sense verdict."

Richard Goodman, an attorney representing Konstantinov and Sergei Mnatsakanov, had asked for $75 million to $100 million for each man's pain and suffering. He also asked for lost wages of $88.8 million for Konstantinov and $2.29 million for Mnatsakanov.

Goodman blamed the injuries on the dealership's failure to ensure that a limousine conversion company left the seat belts visible so passengers could use them. Feeney countered that responsibility for the crash lay not with the dealership but with limo driver Richard Gnida, who had a poor driving record.

The crash on June 13, 1997, occurred six days after Konstantinov helped the Red Wings win their first Stanley Cup in 42 years.


Stanley Cup Matchup

Red Wings   Penguins

Overall Record   54-21-7 115 points   47-27-8 102 points

Games 1-20   14-5-1 29   8-10-2 18

Games 21-40   15-3-2 32   14-6-0 28

Games 41-60   12-6-2 26   12-5-3 27

Games 61-82   13-7-2 28   13-6-3 29

Home Record   29-9-3 61   26-10-5 57

Road Record   25-12-4 54   21-17-3 45

Goals For/Against (+/-)   257/184 (+73)   247/216 (+31)

Power Play %   20.7% (81/391)   20.4% (77/378)

Penalty Killing %   84.0% (57/357)   81.0% (68/357)


Goals   Henrik Zetterberg 43   Evgeni Malkin 47

Assists   Pavel Datsyuk 66   Evgeni Malkin 59

Points   Pavel Datsyuk 97   Evgeni Malkin 106

Game-Winning Goals   Johan Franzen 8   Ryan Malone 6

Power-Play Goals   Henrik Zetterberg 16   Evgeni Malkin 17

Short-Handed Goals   Kris Draper 2   Pascal Dupuis 3

Plus/Minus   Pavel Datsyuk +41   Sidney Crosby +18