For Jordan Staal, the youngest player in the Stanley Cup final, a Game 7 in this big a setting is nothing new.
Staal, 20, has played in many winner-take-all games with the championship on the line.
He just has not done it for the Penguins. Or against the defending Stanley Cup champion Detroit Red Wings.
Or for real.
"I should be pretty comfortable out there, considering how many times I played in one when I was younger," Staal said last night of all the backyard games that substituted for the real thing while he was growing up with three brothers in Thunder Bay, Ontario.
Staal became a big reason the Penguins advanced to Game 7 of this Stanley Cup final when he scored an icebreaking goal 51 seconds into the second period last night in a 2-1 win against Detroit at Mellon Arena.
"It's going to be an unbelievable experience," Staal said of getting a shot at winning the Cup, "and I hope we have a lot of fun with it.
"When you're going through this, there's no better feeling. It's always fun to have those must-win games, and the wins make it really special."
A year ago, the scene in the Penguins' dressing room was the polar opposite from last night. The Red Wings, faced with the same 3-2 series lead, prevailed in Game 6 at Mellon Arena to clinch the Cup. Staal was a teenager and took the loss hard, emotion and tears flowing heavily.
The scenario has changed for the Penguins, and for Staal.
Last night, with the Penguins getting the last change, Staal, Tyler Kennedy and Matt Cooke drew the assignment of playing primarily against Detroit's top line of Pavel Datsyuk, Henrik Zetterberg and Dan Cleary.
"They have a great line up front that does a great job of creating offense," Staal said. "I thought our line -- and even a few other lines that were out there -- did a good job of containing them."
Staal's line prevailed. Kennedy got the Penguins' other goal, while the line they faced was held off the score sheet.
"With his skating ability and his size, he can be a force in the defensive zone, he can be a force with his speed through the neutral zone and he can be a force in the offensive zone," Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said of the 6-foot-4, 220-pound two-way center.
"We saw him do that numerous times tonight, where he was a force in every zone."
Staal's third line made it possible for the Penguins to win in the face of elimination without getting a point from top centers and NHL playoff leading scorers Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin.
"We're trying to help pull the rope and help the team win," Kennedy said, adding that Staal is markedly improved from a year ago."
"Staal had three shots, three hits and won eight of his 14 faceoffs.
He broke a scoreless tie when he took the puck from Detroit's Valtteri Filppula to set up a two-on-one with Cooke against Red Wings defenseman Jonathan Ericsson. Goaltender Chris Osgood stopped Staal's initial shot -- Staal said he actually was trying to pass the puck off Osgood's pads -- but Staal got the rebound and flipped it past Osgood.
It was his fourth goal of the playoffs but his second huge goal of the series. He scored a short-handed goal in Game 4 that pulled the Penguins into a tie while the Red Wings were trying to expand their lead to two goals. The Penguins ended up winning that game, 4-2.
Asked which of his goals this series was bigger, Staal smiled.
"Hopefully, the one in the next game," he said.
Shelly Anderson can be reached at email@example.com or 412-263-1721.