PITTSBURGH (AP) The Detroit Red Wings skated into Pittsburgh for this very game last year, outplayed the Penguins in their building and, in the final indignity, paraded with the Stanley Cup on the same ice where Mario Lemieux once played.
Think Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin and Marc-Andre Fleury don’t remember the emptiness and frustration they felt after that Stanley Cup finals Game 6? After more than 100 games played over more than eight grueling months, the season ends and the other team celebrates before your friends, family and fans?
“We don’t want that image in our heads again,” Penguins forward Max Talbot said Monday.
If the Red Wings win this Game 6 on Tuesday, a year and five days after winning their last one there, it will be more than an image to the Penguins. It will be an instant replay.
Not since Montreal clinched in Boston in 1977 and 1978 has a team won the Stanley Cup in the same opponent’s building two seasons in a row, but the Red Wings will gladly take another clincher in Pittsburgh if it means avoiding an ever-dangerous Game 7.
“It’s obviously a special night when you know you have a chance to win the Cup in one single hockey game,” goalie Chris Osgood.
The Penguins have heard for two days how they lost the Stanley Cup with a more-than-miserable 5-0 loss in Game 5 on Saturday. Even if they win Game 6 before an all-in-white home crowd, they must go back to Detroit and inhospitable Joe Louis Arena, where they have been outscored 10-2 while losing three games and, at times, their tempers.
No, the Penguins don’t need to be told what many outside their dressing room are thinking: This one’s over.
Penguins forward Ruslan Fedotenko is certain it’s not.
Five years ago, his Tampa Bay Lightning were down 3-2 to the Flames going into a road Game 6, with seemingly half of Alberta filling Calgary’s Red Mile entertainment district to celebrate. Instead, Tampa Bay won in overtime, and the Lightning also took Game 7 at home as Fedotenko scored both goals during their 2-1 victory.
“You don’t think about Game 7,” Fedotenko said. “You focus on one game, one shift, and focus like it’s your last shift, and you do it again on the next shift. You play like that, you take care of business, you put yourselves in a good position to win that game.”
The Penguins’ problem is the Red Wings are in a much better position. Two-way star Pavel Datsyuk’s return after missing seven playoff games with a foot injury gave them a big lift in Game 5, and many of their players have been in games like this before.
Nicklas Lidstrom, Kris Draper, Tomas Holmstrom and Kirk Maltby played on all four Red Wings Stanley Cup winners since 1997, and they can make it five on Tuesday. None of those previous four finals went to a Game 7.
“You play for home ice and we have it, but that doesn’t give you any guarantees,” Maltby said. “You always want to try and get that fourth win sooner than later. We have to play like we’re a desperate team.”
Especially against Crosby, who is second in the playoffs with 31 points but was neutralized in Game 5 by a combination of Henrik Zetterberg, Lidstrom, Brian Rafalski and the Penguins’ ineptness. The Pittsburgh captain said it’s one bad game and it’s over.
One more loss and the Penguins’ season is over.
“I think we’re going to bounce back,” Crosby said. “We have all year. We weren’t happy with that effort, but we’ve moved on. I think we realize that, when we were in 10th place in the middle of the season, if they had told us that we had to win a game to force Game 7, we would have taken it.”
For all the Penguins’ struggles in Detroit, Game 7 couldn’t look more attractive.
“I really believe it’s not over,” goalie Marc-Andre Fleury said. “I really look for that Game 7. But at the same time we’ve got to be ready to just play the game.”
There’s no talk now that the Red Wings are too tired or too slow – funny how winning 5-0 quiets all that – but they also understand that if Pittsburgh forces Game 7, the pressure shifts from the Penguins to them.
“You have to find a way to win in the other team’s building. Except in this series, we’ve been able to do that,” Draper said. “It’s up to us to respond, to play the kind of hockey we know we can play.”
And the way Marian Hossa believed they would play after he jumped sides from Pittsburgh to Detroit after last year’s finals.
“It’s the first time I’ve been in this position, so close,” Hossa said. “That would be a dream come true (to win it in Pittsburgh), obviously.”
Not for the Penguins, who still remember Hossa’s last-second shot skittering along the goal line but not going in during their decisive 3-2 loss in Game 6 last year.
To coach Dan Bylsma, the best teams and best players are those that accomplish the most during the toughest times. For his team, this is about as tough as it gets.
“I like it being a defining moment. Moments like this define where you’re at,” he said. “Everyone in that room should be ready to play their best game and make a difference.”