DETROIT – If there’s a member of the Pittsburgh Penguins who truly understands what’s at stake in this Stanley Cup final, it’s Darryl Sydor.
No one else on the young team has a couple fancy rings in his jewellery collection that commemorate two NHL championships. On the flip side, no one else has the bad memories that come with being on the losing end of two other Stanley Cup finals.
The veteran defenceman goes out of his way to remember past experiences both good and bad, which is why he was wearing the championship ring he won with the Dallas Stars in 1999 when he met the media on Sunday afternoon.
“That’s what I’ve always done, I’ve always worn my rings in the playoffs,” he explained. “Just kind of reminds me of how hard it is to try and get these.”
With the Penguins trailing the Detroit Red Wings 3-1 heading into Game 5 on Monday, it will take something historic for him to earn another one this spring.
Only one NHL team has ever come back from that deficit in the Stanley Cup final and it’s been 66 years since the Toronto Maple Leafs accomplished the feat against Detroit. The No. 66 has long been lucky for the Penguins franchise so that might be something for their superstitious supporters to cling to.
Sydor will be reflecting on his memories of the 2004 final, when he and the Tampa Bay Lightning went into Calgary and took Game 6 before winning the series on home ice in the seventh game.
That experience taught him a lesson that he planned to share with his Pittsburgh teammates before they played Game 5 at Joe Louis Arena.
“The team that wants to keep playing, plays with a lot of desperation and urgency, keeps it simple and just never says die (should win),” said Sydor. “And that’s what we’re going to do tomorrow. We’re going to make it very tough.”
Outside of the Penguins locker-room, that doesn’t seem to be a commonly held view.
This series seems to have an air of inevitably about it and the signs aren’t good for Pittsburgh. Detroit has arguably been the better team in all four games so far and could already have wrapped up a fourth title in the past 12 years.
Newspaper columnists in both cities seem to think the Red Wings will achieve that feat Monday night.
The Penguins certainly aren’t spending too much time reading the papers. Instead, their sole focus is on preparing for the most important game of the season.
“I don’t think there’s really anything to be nervous about, besides leaving it all out there and seeing what happens,” said Sidney Crosby. “We have to make sure we empty the tank and play desperate and see where that takes us.”
The 20-year-old captain won’t be able to do it on his own.
There’s no better time than now for sidekick Evgeni Malkin to make his presence felt in this series. The Hart Trophy finalist has yet to score against Detroit and has become the poster boy for all the Penguins problems.
The weight of failed expectations was evident when Malkin buried his face in his hands for 15 minutes after Saturday’s 2-1 loss in Pittsburgh. Coach Michel Therrien and Malkin’s teammates are doing all they can to keep him calm.
“I do try, believe me,” said Therrien. “He’s an important player for our team, and with good reason.
“He’s facing a tough time. He’s a good kid. He means well. And it’s not a matter that he doesn’t want to have success. He wants success for our team, and his teammates and for himself too as well.”
No team has had as much success as the Red Wings over the past few months. After going through a miserable stretch in February where it won just once in 12 games, Detroit has compiled a sterling record of 27-8-1 since.
While there would be no shame for Pittsburgh in losing to them, that doesn’t mean it would be easy – particularly for a guy like Sydor.
He was 21 when he got his first taste of the Stanley Cup with the Los Angeles Kings during their loss to Montreal in 1993. His first championship came with Dallas in 1999 but that was followed by a Stars loss to New Jersey a year later. His second ring came with the Lightning in 2004.
As good as these young Penguins are, there are no guarantees that they’ll get other championship chances like Sydor did. It’s something every player realizes.
“Everybody knows how important it’s going to be next game, and we don’t even have to talk about it,” said winger Marian Hossa. “Everybody just knows it, and we know what it’s going to take to win the game.
“It’s going to be extra difficult, but we are prepared and willing to do everything in our power to win the next game.”