DETROIT – Maxime Talbot of the Pittsburgh Penguins and Dan Cleary of the Detroit Red Wings are really, really nice stories. Talbot’s sense of self-deprecation is hilarious and Cleary’s riches-to-rags-to-riches story makes it very easy to cheer for him.
But going into what might be the final game of this year’s Stanley Cup final, it has become clear that the winner of this year’s tournament will be determined by the star power and goaltending on both sides of the equation. At this particular moment in what has been a series of huge momentum swings, that means Pittsburgh’s big money players have to be a lot better in Game 6 if the Penguins are to have any hope of stretching this series to a deciding game next Friday night.
For the Red Wings, of course the return of Hart Trophy finalist Pavel Datsyuk was huge, and the Wings will need more of the same from their top players and goalie Chris Osgood. And if Marian Hossa were to ever get some tangible results, the Red Wings would be flying.
In the Game 5 disaster for the Penguins, Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin had one shot. When Tyler Kennedy is getting more looks in a game than those players, something has to change. Crosby and goalie Marc-Andre Fleury appear to be in the spotlight, perhaps because Malkin has had such a good series to this point.
“Well, we can talk specifically about Sidney, but I believe in our group of guys,” said Penguins coach Dan Bylsma. “I know that in situations that have been difficult in this playoff run, we’ve responded with a pretty keen focus, a steely resolve, and went out and played our best hockey when sometimes we were backed against a wall. So I’m confident in our group, I’m confident in our goaltender, I’m confident in Sidney Crosby that we’ll be focused and ready to go.”
Fleury has historically proved to be somewhat erratic in big situations and might still have something of a fragile psyche after giving up five goals in Game 5. And while they certainly all weren’t his fault, the opening goal by Dan Cleary had a distinct odor to it and Niklas Kronwall’s goal wasn’t a particularly difficult shot, either.
“It wasn’t his fault, the situation we were in,” Bylsma said. “It was the situation of pucks getting by him and hitting sticks and two power-play goals. Marc is the guy who is going in for Game 6. We believe in him. I know he’s the type of guy who is going to be ready for Game 6. He’s going to be focused and he’s going to want to go out there and play the best game of the series in Game 6. I know every guy in that room wants to see him in that net for Game 6. They believe in him. They’re confident in him and they know he’s going to respond.”
A response similar to the one Osgood came up with in Game 5 would be ideal for the Penguins. After losing two games in Pittsburgh, Osgood faced the same round of questions he always does, then responded with some big saves early and made the best pass of the night to help set Valtteri Filppula up for the second goal of the game.
“We’ve all in our life had some chances to be complacent and when that happens, things usually snowball in a negative way,” said Red Wings coach Mike Babcock. “(Osgood) has been able to get it stopped and really help our team and play really well. All the power to him. He’s done a good job for us and put out team in a good situation now.”
Datsyuk said Sunday afternoon that he felt fine after his first game back and was looking forward to making an even more tangible contribution in the next game. Having him play with Henrik Zetterberg gives the Red Wings a ton of skill and dependable play from their top line. Splitting them up gives the Red Wings depth down the middle of the ice that is almost impossible to match.
“This is not my decision, it’s the coach’s decision,” Datsyuk said when asked whether he’d be playing again on the wing on Zetterberg’s line in Game 6. “I’m a hockey player, I’m not making decisions.”
CLEARY ON CLOSING OUT
Cleary was rather philosophical when asked why it’s so difficult to close a team out in the Stanley Cup final, something the Red Wings have a chance to do in Game 6.
“You’re taking away somebody’s dreams that they live for and it’s not an easy thing to do,” Cleary said. “But it’s all the will and determination and how badly you want it. You’ve just got to out-will the other player.”
LAST CHANCE BILL?
It has been 14 years since Bill Guerin won the Stanley Cup with the New Jersey Devils. At the age of 38 and an up-and-down playoff to his credit this spring, he knows this might be his last chance.
“I know where I’m at in my career,” Guerin said. “I know they’re going to have to kick me out of this league because I want to keep playing as long as I can. But the opportunity is now. The opportunity is now for a 38-year-old and it’s now for a 22-year-old and for a 28-year-old. The opportunity is now and you have to take it when you’ve got the opportunity because it could be 14 years before you get your next one.”
Click HERE to see video of host Ken Campbell and Detroit Red Wings GM Ken Holland discuss… Proving the critics wrong… The improved penalty kill of the Red Wings… The skill and will to win… And what Detroit has to do to close the series out in Pittsburgh.
THN is on the road following the Stanley Cup final and will file daily reports until a champion is crowned. To read other entries, click HERE. Also, check out THN.com’s regular video roundtable, the THN.com Shootout for updates from both Detroit and Pittsburgh.
Ken Campbell, author of the book Habs Heroes, is a senior writer for The Hockey News and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog appears Wednesday and Fridays and his column, Campbell’s Cuts, appears Mondays.
For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, subscribe to The Hockey News magazine.