PITTSBURGH – Dan Bylsma is hoping for a picture perfect ending to this Stanley Cup.
Six years ago, the Pittsburgh Penguins coach was on the losing end of a Game 7 in the NHL’s championship series. He was playing for the Anaheim Mighty Ducks then and came away with a forgettable memento.
The morning after losing 3-0 to the New Jersey Devils, a photo of Bylsma failing to bat the puck behind Martin Brodeur appeared in the newspaper.
It was his Game 7 chance and he missed it. Bylsma saved the photo but doesn’t have any need to look at it.
“It’s pretty much emblazed in my memory,” he said Wednesday. “But that’s the agony and the beautiful thing of sport, that we play a game, and we play it for some great reasons – to win a Cup, to win a trophy, to be the best.
“When you don’t get it, it’s painful. And when you get it, it’s glorious, and you get a lot of good pictures. You take the bad ones if you don’t win and you put them in a basement in a box somewhere.
“And we’re looking for one we can hang on the wall.”
They’ll get the opportunity at Joe Louis Arena on Friday night, when the Penguins and Detroit Red Wings will play just the 15th all-or-nothing game in Stanley Cup history.
Given the way the Penguins’ season has gone, it only seems fitting that history is squarely against them. Not only has the home team won every game in this series, but home teams are also 12-2 overall in deciding games for the Stanley Cup.
They’re also looking to join the 1971 Montreal Canadiens as the only teams to drop the opening two games in the final on the road before coming back to win.
However, stats like those won’t deter a Pittsburgh team that found itself five points out of the playoffs following an embarrassing 6-2 loss in Toronto on Feb. 14. Coach Michel Therrien was fired the next day and replaced by Bylsma, who has guided the team to a 33-11-4 record and gotten it within one win of the Stanley Cup.
Now that they’re here, he likes their chances.
“I’m not a very good oddsmaker, so I’m not going to give you any odds,” said Bylsma. “But (on) February 15, we all would have signed up for whatever odds we’ve got. …
“That is an opportunity we’ll gladly take.”
It’s an opinion that is shared by the Red Wings.
Even though the franchise has been the NHL’s best over the past two decades, it hasn’t played in many do-or-die games. This will be just the third they’ve been part of since 1997 and one of them came earlier this spring, when they beat Anaheim in the second round.
For all of Detroit’s experience, this is essentially unchartered territory.
“Never have I been in a situation like this in a Game 7, where so much is on the line,” said veteran forward Kris Draper. “I’m excited about it. It’s the greatest thing an athlete can ask for.”
Just like Pittsburgh, the Red Wings had to overcome their share of ups and downs this season.
Everyone from Henrik Zetterberg to Chris Osgood has talked about struggling with a Stanley Cup hangover after beating the Penguins in six games last spring. There were many times where coach Mike Babcock wondered if his team would be able to get back to an elite level.
“You know, we won a lot of games,” said Babcock. “But after the game each night, when you know how you’re supposed to play and you know how a team plays right, you say to yourself: ‘Are we’re going to get this to the level we want to?’
“To be honest with you, going into the playoffs against Columbus, you wonder how much you have in the tank. You wonder how much drive you have. That’s the thing I’ve been most impressed with our group, that they’ve found a way to keep playing.”
There isn’t a hockey team anywhere in the world that has played as much as the Red Wings and Penguins over the past two years. It all comes down to one game for the glory.
It’s a scenario that a few guys in this series have experienced because it’s already happened four times since 2001.
Even a guy like 20-year-old Penguins centre Jordan Staal has a sense of what the atmosphere will be like. He remembers watching brother Eric win the Stanley Cup in Game 7 when Carolina beat Edmonton in 2006.
The brothers had yet to speak as of Wednesday morning.
“He’s on the beach somewhere on vacation, so I haven’t called him about a little advice,” said Jordan Staal. “I watched his Game 7. I think I understand, I think everyone in this room understands the stakes, where we’re at. We’re just going to go out and play.
“We’re going to play as hard as we can, and we’ll go from there.”
Interestingly, Babcock coached the Anaheim team that featured Bylsma as a checking winger back in 2003. They’re both looking to make a different Game 7 memory this time around.
Bylsma knows first-hand that the difference will likely come down to some small little detail.
“There’s going to be a chance, there’s going to be a play, a blocked shot to score a goal,” he said. “That’s where we put ourselves – a one-game, one-chance scenario. The play’s going to be on a lot of guys sticks in that game.
“And there will be a picture the next morning.”