Maybe the task is less daunting if you shrink the magnitude until it's smaller than you, if you reduce the import of this Stanley Cup final to the springtime chore of a 12-year-old.
"We're, like, in a Pee Wee tournament right now," Penguins center Max Talbot said yesterday, forcing a smile. "We got in the quarterfinal. We have to win three games."
Substitute champagne for juice boxes, a century-old chalice for a store-bought trophy, the Detroit Red Wings in Game 5 tonight for some garage-sponsored opponent in a Quebec adolescent assemblage, and ... no, they don't seem too similar, do they?
Smelling the championship end as if it were another oncoming octopus tossed onto their home ice, the Red Wings seek to close out the postseason and hoist hockey's sacred hardware tonight when the Cup, a 3-1 Detroit series lead and a dazed bunch of Penguins all convene in Joe Louis Arena for what could be the last game of this 2007-08 NHL season. It was the same venue where the Penguins admittedly played poorly in losing Games 1 and 2 by a collective 7-0.
1. How will the Penguins react to the pressure of trying to stave off elimination in a hostile venue? Especially when knowing that 28 of 29 teams facing a 3-1 deficit in a Cup final have lost the series.
2. After being shut out in Games 1 and 2, can the Penguins figure out how to score at Joe Louis Arena? If not, there obviously won't be a Game 6 at Mellon Arena Wednesday.
3. Is Penguins goalie Marc-Andre Fleury capable of stealing a game? That might be his team's best hope of extending this series.
Talbot was spot-on as far as one factor: To wrest the Cup from the Red Wings' grip, the Penguins must win three consecutive games.
But they won't play any more than one in a single night, starting with Game 5 at 8:08 tonight on NBC.
"You gotta win one," captain Sidney Crosby said before the Penguins left for Detroit yesterday afternoon. "We can't look at it as winning the next three. Our goal is to get back here" for a Game 6 scheduled for Wednesday.
"We've got nothing to lose," added defenseman Brooks Orpik. "We've got a competitive group of guys that I think will be real desperate right now."
"We will be," defenseman Darryl Sydor continued, "a very desperate hockey club."
The Penguins yesterday continued to label Game 4 Saturday as their best game yet in this Cup final. Still, they lost, 2-1. They failed to capitalize on 86 seconds of a 5-on-3 power play midway through the third period, they failed to prevent fourth-liner Jiri Hudler from scoring off a puck they couldn't get out of their zone, they failed to hold a 1-0 lead for anything more than four minutes.
So after playing their best game yet and losing, where are their hearts and minds now?
"Confidence is an issue," Crosby said. "But I don't think there's anything to be nervous about. We know when we play our game ... we've got a great chance to win."
"That's the thing about the playoffs: You don't want to get down," goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury said. "We're not down. Got to stay positive.
"Uh, I think everybody still believes, you know. Showed we can play with them."
Fleury was referring to Games 3 and 4 at Mellon Arena, two one-goal outcomes distinctly different from Detroit's two shutouts to open the series.
"I don't think it was so much the building, it was the way we played," Orpik said of the two losses in Detroit. "We were undisciplined."
"I think we learned from Games 1 and 2," Crosby added. "We realized if we play our game, we have a chance."
"We're not paying attention to those first two games," coach Michel Therrien said. "You can say whatever you want with the numbers. It's not going to change anything."
Therrien similarly found a stark contrast in the Penguins' play from venue to venue.
"Obviously, we didn't like the way we started the series over there," he said. "Game 3 we played very well. [Saturday] we played a solid game; that was the type of game that could have gone either way. We gave those guys less than 10 scoring chances; they got nine. Usually, we win those types of games. [The Red Wings] find a way to win. That's what a good team does.
"The winning goal [by Hudler], it was a broken play. The puck bounces. It hit Marc-Andre on the shoulder. It went in. That doesn't mean we're not good. I thought our players played hard. I thought our players played a good game. Hey, you need breaks to win hockey games. I'm saying that a lot [lately]. You need breaks, you need calls. They got a break, they scored, and they won the game. You got to move on.
"We've proven in the past that we're capable of playing solid hockey on the road. We're going to have to prove it again [in Game 5]."
It isn't merely the road, where the Penguins suffered their only four losses in the postseason until Saturday night. Another problem of late has been their closing power.
The Penguins outscored the Ottawa Senators, New York Rangers and Philadelphia Flyers, 20-7, in the third periods of those preceding series. In the final, the Red Wings essentially have owned the third periods by a 6-1 goal margin. Crosby talked about the Penguins having to "turn it up in the third period."
Fleury offered another solution encompassing all three periods:
"If I can stop more pucks and we can score more goals, we should be all right."
So simple a 12-year-old could do it, huh?
First Published June 2, 2008 4:00 AM