Autoplay
Show Thumbnails
Show Captions
LINKEDINCOMMENTMORE

Pittsburgh — They are four of the best players not only in the NHL, but also the world.

Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk of the Red Wings, and Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin of the Penguins, represent the best there is in the NHL.

And since the foursome met in the 2008 and 2009 Stanley Cup Finals — two of the star-studded and exciting series in recent years —games between these teams have attained must-watch status.

The fans love watching them.

And the players themselves appreciate what goes on in the game inside of the game.

"There's probably a little more intensity because of that," said Crosby of the two consecutive Stanley Cup Finals series. "There's matchups within the game and with that group, we're all pretty familiar with each other, we've played (each other) so much.

"Me and Geno want to help our team and they want to do the same."

All four players are having typically outstanding seasons.

Zetterberg went into Wednesday's game with 15 goals, 32 assists and 47 points in 52 games. Datsyuk had 15 goals and 24 assists for 39 points in 41 games.

Crosby and Malkin have been even better offensively.

Crosby had 17 goals and 39 assists (56 points) in 49 games. Malkin had 20 goals and 32 assists (52 points) in 48 games.

Both teams are among the best in the Eastern Conference and appear capable of making long playoff runs.

"Any time you're talking about players of that level, I'm sure when they look across at the other bench, they want to out-play them," Penguins coach Mike Johnston said. "That's the way great players are. They want to be better than the next guy.

"Certainly between Zetterberg and Datsyuk and Crosby and Malkin, you've got a great match-up there. You've got four of the better players in the league, four of the top players in the world. Playing head to head, they're going to be competitive and try and outplay each other."

Zetterberg won the 2008 Conn Smythe Trophy as the playoffs Most Valuable Player, carrying the Red Wings past Pittsburgh in the Finals thanks largely to his dominance over Crosby and Malkin.

Crosby remains one of Zetterberg's most difficult challenges.

"He's probably the best offensive player in the league. Everything he does, he does with such a high pace," Zetterberg said. "You can't give him any room and space. If you do that, there's more luck (involved) than skill to stop him."

Those Finals series in 2008 and 2009 were the foundation to the rivalry that exists now between both teams, each teams' stars so identifiable with their teams.

"When you play a team in the Cup Finals like that, you probably bring out some stuff that normally is not there in the regular season," Zetterberg said. "Obviously Sid and Malkin are some of the best players in the world and it's fun to play against them."

ted.kulfan@detroitnews.com

twitter.com/tkulfan

LINKEDINCOMMENTMORE