Players dogpile after defeating Detroit for the Stanley Cup in June 2009. The Penguins meet the Red Wings again today in Detroit, but the goal this time is a win to cling to an Atlantic Division lead.
By Shelly Anderson Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
The champagne long has been wiped from the walls of the visitors' locker room. All on-ice markings and building decorations from the 2009 Stanley Cup playoffs are gone.
Still, thoughts of that warm night in June are sure to envelope the Penguins when they arrive today at Joe Louis Arena. The last time they were pulling away from the building, in the wee hours of June 13, they were hooting and hollering and hoisting the Stanley Cup through an opening in the roof of the team bus to the delight of their fans who had made the trip to Detroit for Game 7 of the final series.
"We'll have a good memory walking into the arena to start off with," Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said Sunday after practice at Mellon Arena. The Michigan native figures he will have 30 friends and family members at the game.
The Penguins swear, though, that the feeling won't linger, can't linger.
This isn't the postseason. Not yet. A win won't bring the Penguins the kind of reward their 2-1 victory against the Red Wings did in their previous trip, and both teams have a clear agenda for this meeting.
Matchup: Penguins at Detroit Red Wings, 7:08 p.m. today, Joe Louis Arena, Detroit.
TV, radio: Versus, WXDX-FM (105.9).
Probable goaltenders: Marc-Andre Fleury for Penguins. Jimmy Howard for Red Wings.
Penguins: Have three regulation losses in past 17 games. ... Have scored more than three goals twice in past 13 games. ... Four of past five games decided in OT have been losses.
Red Wings: Are 6-1-1 in past eight games. ... Are 8-5-3 vs. Eastern Conference. ... Todd Bertuzzi has one goal in past 20 games.
Hidden stat: Red Wings are among the leaders at home in power play (21.5 percent) and penalty killing (86.2 percent).
It has little to do with the rivalry that has built up as the Penguins and Detroit met in the Stanley Cup final the past two years, and everything to do with the desperation of the final weeks of the regular season.
The Penguins, with 90 points, are clinging to the Atlantic Division lead -- two points up on New Jersey, which has played one fewer game -- and to the second seed in the Eastern Conference. That's what is important to the Penguins, not so much the chance to rub the Red Wings' nose in what happened more than nine months ago.
"All that stuff, to me, is beside the point," winger Craig Adams said. "We want to win our division. It doesn't matter who we're playing."
Things are more dire for the Red Wings, who are flirting with missing the playoffs for the first time in 19 years.
Detroit, with 83 points, is third in the Central Division, and, more important, holds the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference, two points ahead of Calgary.
The Red Wings were decimated by injuries early in the season but have picked things up. They are 8-2-1 in their past 11 games.
"I think we're almost playing like it's the playoffs for us right now," Red Wings captain Niklas Lidstrom told reporters Saturday after a 4-3 overtime win at Vancouver. "We're really in need of points and wins."
In that win, Henrik Zetterburg scored with 0.3 seconds left in overtime. A night earlier, defenseman Brian Rafalski scored with 0.2 seconds left in regulation as Detroit salvaged a point in a 3-2 shootout loss at Edmonton.
The Penguins know that feeling in reverse. Saturday against Carolina, rookie defenseman Jamie McBain scored with 0.9 seconds remaining in overtime to give the Hurricanes a 3-2 win.
That was a game that brought up a recurring theme -- the Penguins are not playing as consistently as they would like or expect.
Breakdowns that have led to odd-man rushes for opponents and stretches of strong play interspersed with lulls have been troubling, especially this late in the season.
"For us, these are important games, and important points as well," said team captain Sidney Crosby, who had the Penguins' regulation goal and the shootout-winning goal Jan. 31 in a 2-1 victory against the Red Wings at home.
Maybe a game at Joe Louis comes at a good time.
"We need a bounce-back game. It's a perfect building to get a bounce-back game," winger Pascal Dupuis said.
The Penguins might feel as if they need to push the memory of winning the Cup at Detroit aside, but perhaps they can channel the energy from that night.
"I think it will be good for our team, to get the emotion of that game," Penguins center Jordan Staal said. "That atmosphere is always tough to play in.
"I think it will be a good team for our team to play right now."
NOTES -- Center Evgeni Malkin, who aggravated his sore right foot Saturday, did not practice. Neither did winger Matt Cooke and defenseman Sergei Gonchar. Bylsma said they all were given "maintenance days." ... Bylsma said he hasn't determined his lineup, so it is unclear whether forward Max Talbot, who had both goals in the Game 7 win at Detroit, will play. He has been a healthy scratch three of the past four games. ... The formal part of practice lasted just 20 minutes as Bylsma said he is trying to balance rest with a chance to work on eliminating inconsistency. ... For Detroit, winger Kirk Maltby (shoulder) is out, while forwards Dan Cleary (groin) and Patrick Eaves (head) are day to day.