DETROIT (AP) Nicklas Lidstrom, Chris Osgood and Kirk Maltby spread out like a perfectly shaped triangle in the Detroit Red Wings dressing room and tried to explain how Game 7 of the Stanley Cup finals is really like any other game.
When that seemingly unbelievable message comes from guys who have championship rings that nearly cover a whole hand it begins to sound plausible.
“It’s hard to really mentally sell it to yourself that it’s just another game, but it is,” Maltby said Thursday.
Lidstrom, Maltby, Tomas Holmstrom and Kris Draper are going for their fifth title in 12 seasons Friday night in Game 7 against the Pittsburgh Penguins. Osgood is on the verge of a fourth ring, third as the Red Wings starting goalie.
Detroit had a shot for its second straight Cup on Tuesday night in Game 6, but fell 2-1 in Pittsburgh. The Red Wings have one more chance to secure it, and they will try at home where they are 11-1 in the playoffs – 3-0 in this series.
“It’s no different,” said Osgood, 15-7 with a 2.00 goals-against average in the playoffs. “Game 7 is just another game to win the Cup. That was our Game 7 in Pittsburgh.
“It makes no difference if it’s Game 4, 5, 6, or 7. If you can win the Cup, you’ve got the exact same type of game. The only difference is they have a chance now, too.”
That depends on whom you ask.
The home team won each of the first six games. The Penguins went 1-2 at Joe Louis Arena in last year’s finals and have been outscored 11-2 in three losses in this series.
Given the chance to practice in Detroit on Thursday, Penguins coach Dan Bylsma decided the upside wasn’t enough to sacrifice another day at home. The Penguins skated one last time in Pittsburgh before flying to Detroit.
“I didn’t think a seventh time or an eighth time … was going to show us one thing about the boards that we didn’t already know,” Bylsma said. “I thought staying home would give us a better chance to be more focused and more prepared in our routine.”
Pittsburgh captain Sidney Crosby has been bottled up by forward Henrik Zetterberg, who hits the ice pretty much every time Crosby does, and hasn’t scored a goal in six finals games in Detroit.
Crosby and teammate Evgeni Malkin, who led the NHL with 113 points in the regular season, went pointless in the Game 6 win. That was Pittsburgh’s first postseason victory since the dynamic duo joined the team in which neither star got on the score sheet.
The Penguins can’t expect to dethrone the Red Wings in Detroit if Crosby and Malkin are blanked again.
“I’d always like to score more,” said Crosby, who has a goal and two assists in the series. “I look back, and on some of the chances I’ve had just didn’t really get a whole lot of luck. Now is not the time to think about what could have been. The only way I’m looking at here is it’s a great opportunity, and I’ve got to try to go out there and play my best game in the playoffs.
“No matter what’s happened before, whether I had one goal or 10, doesn’t really matter.”
History strongly favors the Red Wings heading into the final game of the season. Home teams are 12-2 in championship Game 7s and have won 80 of the 128 playoff series that have gone the distance (62.5 percent).
While the Red Wings have a wealth of overall experience and lots of practice in hoisting the Cup, compared to the Penguins – whose championships came well before this group was in Pittsburgh – they haven’t played a finals Game 7 with Detroit.
Defenseman Brian Rafalski, a Michigan native, went through it twice with New Jersey. He was on the short end in 2001 against Colorado, and came out on top two years later against Anaheim, which was coached by current Red Wings bench boss Mike Babcock.
The Red Wings are 12-7 overall in Game 7s, but haven’t played one in the finals since 1964 and haven’t hosted a decisive game with the Cup on the line since 1955 – a 3-1 victory over Montreal.
“I am sure there will be some butterflies early on, especially here in the room before you hit the ice,” captain Lidstrom said. “Once you start playing, you are so focused on what you have to do and your assignments out there. I think that will go away.”
Ruslan Fedotenko is hardly a star for the Penguins, but his voice carries a little farther these days. In 2004, Fedotenko scored both goals for Tampa Bay in Game 7 and helped the Lightning complete a comeback from a 3-2 series deficit against Calgary and win the Stanley Cup.
Pittsburgh is trying to repeat the feat.
“I will have my moment, and I will talk to the team before the game,” Fedotenko said. “We won at home. We forced Game 7, and it gave us the opportunity to play for the Cup, gave us a chance to win. Right now we’ll take that.
“We’ve been successful in probably the first 10 minutes in each game. I feel like we’ve come out pretty strong … but I feel like we need to find a way to put in 60 minutes of that. I’m sure if we do that, we’ll have a chance to win.”
That opportunity was lost in Game 5 when the series was tied 2-2. The Penguins started well, but failed to score on an early power play. That was the jump that propelled the Red Wings to the 5-0 victory that put them one win away from their 12th Stanley Cup title.
That is the only game in the series decided by more than two goals.
“We wanted to finish them off early, but the two teams have been so even and playing so well at home that there haven’t been big differences between the two teams,” Lidstrom said. “In a way it might be fitting that the top two teams are playing a Game 7.”