DETROIT - Don't be fooled by the scraggly semblance of a beard that strains to cover chunks of Sidney Crosby's 21-year-old face.
He's most definitely still Sid the Kid, but with a tough loss to the Detroit Red Wings in the Stanley Cup finals under his belt, the young Pittsburgh Penguins captain has the experience that could make a difference in the rematch.
"There's no surprises this year," Crosby said yesterday. "We know what to expect. Even a simple thing like today, coming in we know what to expect."
For the first time since 1983 and 1984 when the New York Islanders and Edmonton Oilers split a pair of titles, the NHL championship, which opens in Detroit tonight, is a rematch. Game 2 has been shoved into tomorrow.
It is the first time finals games will be played on consecutive days since 1955.
The Penguins hope to equal the Oilers' feat of losing in the final round against a dynasty team and wresting away the Cup the following year.
It hasn't been done since.
"We know our opponent," Crosby 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."
Edmonton's win in 1984 ended the Islanders' reign of four straight titles and started the Oilers' run of five championships in seven years.
The Red Wings, who have won four titles in 11 seasons, are built on a foundation of older stalwarts such as captain Nicklas Lidstrom, Tomas Holmstrom, Kris Draper and Kirk Maltby. They are bolstered by relative newcomers Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg, their top two regular-season scorers.
Detroit won in six games last year and is looking to become the first NHL team with back-to-back championships since the Red Wings did it in 1997 and 1998 with several of these players.
"It's fun when you look back at some of the pictures when we tried growing beards and still had a little of the baby fat going," said Maltby, a four-time Cup winner. "Now the roles are reversed and we're the older guys.
"To be able to get here for a fifth time is something I never would've dreamed of."
The banged-up, older Red Wings expect to have Lidstrom back on the blue line today after he was forced to sit out the last two games of the conference finals against Chicago because of an undisclosed lower-body injury.
Draper, sidelined for all but four games during this postseason, should also return along with defenseman Jonathan Ericsson - just a few days removed from surgery following a bout with appendicitis.
Datsyuk is still the biggest question mark.
He practiced yesterday morning, but will be a game-time decision.