PITTSBURGH - The NHL is right back where it was last year: Pittsburgh vs. Detroit for the Stanley Cup, with Sid the Kid again going for his first championship and the ever-successful Red Wings trying for yet another one.
"Certainly two of the marquee franchises going toe-to-toe again in the Finals, it's something we all can appreciate even when we're in the midst of it," Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said.
Pittsburgh has rallied around the Pens, whose games are drawing NFL playoff-like ratings in the Pittsburgh market - a 27.1 rating on little-watched cable channel Versus for Game 4 of the Eastern Conference finals against Carolina, or 51/2 times the ratings in Raleigh.
Although there were empty seats in recession-ravaged Detroit for Red Wings home games, the last 115 Penguins home games in the NHL's oldest arena were sellouts.
Giant banners bearing the pictures of stars Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin hang from the girders of the new arena being built across the street from Mellon Arena.
The Penguins appear to have everything going for them - momentum from a conference finals sweep, two of the league's best players in high gear, and the kind of fervent support that franchises in some higher-profile sports wish they had.
There's only one thing missing: a Stanley Cup, at least one of more recent vintage than those won by the Mario Lemieux-led Penguins of 1991 and 1992.
The Penguins are relatively healthy, Malkin and Crosby are rolling with a league-leading 28 points apiece and goalie Marc-Andre Fleury said "the emotion and the stress, all the stuff we didn't know" last year are missing.
The Red Wings were missing stars Nicklas Lidstrom (two games) and Pavel Datsyuk (three games) for part of the Western Conference finals against Chicago, although they're hoping both will return for Game 1 tomorrow.