DETROIT -- In its simplest form, the Stanley Cup final can be reduced to a math equation at this stage.
"It's going to be a best-of-three." Detroit winger Jiri Hudler said yesterday. "It's starting over again."
Tied with the Penguins at two wins apiece, the defending champion Red Wings in a sense are back where they started a week ago -- even with the Penguins but with home-ice advantage.
They get Game 5 tonight at Joe Louis Arena and travel to Mellon Arena for Game 6 Tuesday. If the teams split -- so far, the home team has held serve -- Game 7 will be here Friday.
There are some other dynamics at work, though.
Detroit is 10-1, including a current seven-game winning streak, at home this postseason. That could tilt things in the Red Wings' favor because they do not have to win a road game to claim the Stanley Cup..
"So far, this series has been really even," defenseman Nicklas Lidstrom said. "We took care of business here on home ice, and they did that in their rink. So, coming back here again, you have to win two out of three, and that's the way we're looking at it.
"We're playing with a lot of confidence coming into our building, and that has come to out [tonight]."
The Red Wings won their two home games to open the series, followed by the Penguins' winning two in Pittsburgh. That could give the Penguins the momentum going into Game 5 -- if that is enough to override Detroit's strong play at home.
"You know, it's interesting," Detroit coach Mike Babcock said. "I said this to the players, too: If you listen to what people on the outside say, Pittsburgh was done after two games. I don't think anybody in our locker room thought that. Now, if you listen to what people on the outside say, the Red Wings are done after two [road] games. I don't think that's what we think.
"What we think is, we've got the best team with two [chances to win] in our building and we're going to come here and play well."
The Red Wings and Penguins seem well matched for their second meeting in a row in the final. Both teams emphasize aggressive play and skilled puck management. Each team won its home games by two goals.
The series is guaranteed to stretch to Game 6. But Detroit is not afraid of the possibility of a winner-take-all Game 7 and could see it played out that way.
"Yeah, definitely," said winger and former Penguin Marian Hossa. "We played well in the first two games. They played strong games at home. We easily could go to Game 7.
"We have to be well prepared for it, and I'm sure we are. We have to be better and play a more patient and smarter game than we did."
Hossa was primarily referring to Game 4, when the Red Wings gave up a backbreaking short-handed goal by the Penguins' Jordan Staal, the first of three unanswered goals in the second period in a 4-2 Penguins win.
Babcock knows there are those who watched that and now believe his team is physically or emotionally tired going into tonight's game.
"I thought after they got up 4-2, we had a push, but we didn't have energy," he said. "Is that because we're worn right out? Or is that because it happens all the time, when one team scores a few goals, bang, bang, bang, the other team doesn't have as much energy and the [first] team gets more excited?
"We're going to find this all out [tonight]."
Detroit has a lot of experience going into Game 5 with a series tied.
Since 1996, the Red Wings have been 2-2 in 14 series -- though, not all were reached with each team winning its two home games. They have won 10 of those series.
Veteran winger Kirk Maltby has been around for each one and knows you can't throw out the first four games just because the series is tied.
"You've got four games under your belt," he said. "Maybe some battles or things like that are a little [more heated] than they were in Game 1.
"But it's the best two out of three now. The difference is now one team wins the next game, and it puts the other team in the elimination factor. We're at home. That doesn't mean anything for us in terms of guarantees, but it allows us to be back in our home rink, in our own beds and able to regroup."
Shelly Anderson can be reached at email@example.com or 412-263-1721.