DETROIT -- Even now, the feelings linger. And most of them hurt.
Oh sure, there's pride in what they accomplished, and justifiably so.
After all, the 2007-08 Penguins achieved a lot. Likely more than anyone realistically could have expected.
Coming within two victories of a Stanley Cup truly was a remarkable feat for that team and possibly a portent.
But that was scant consolation five months ago, as they watched the Detroit Red Wings celebrate a championship at Mellon Arena. Those snapshots were scorched into their memories and figure to stay there for a long, long time.
"Unfortunately, the moment that sticks with me is when you finally realize that we lost," defenseman Rob Scuderi said of the Cup final.
• Game: Penguins vs. Detroit Red Wings, 7:08 p.m.
• Where: Joe Louis Arena, Detroit.
• TV: Versus
Some uplifting moments during series also left an indelible impression -- remember the remarkable, triple-overtime victory in Game 5? -- but when the Penguins step onto the ice for their game against the Red Wings tonight at Joe Louis Arena, most of what they recall probably won't be positive.
"There was a lot of bad [to remember] at the end," center Jordan Staal said.
Truth be told, the last time they were at Joe Louis, for Game 5 of the final, the Penguins enjoyed what likely was the high point of their playoff run.
That night, the Red Wings held a 3-1 advantage in the series and a 3-2 lead on the scoreboard as the final minute of regulation was melting away.
The crowd was roaring, the Stanley Cup had been polished, and Detroit had only to fend off the Penguins' final, desperate surges to trigger a civic celebration.
"You're hearing [fans chant], 'We want the Cup, we want the Cup,' and thinking, 'This could be it,' " Penguins center Sidney Crosby said.
But it wasn't. For just 34.3 seconds before the Penguins' season was to expire, Max Talbot jammed a shot inside the right post to extend it.
Three overtimes later, Petr Sykora got the winner on a power play, and the final, with a sudden infusion of suspense, shifted back to Mellon Arena.
"It gave us two more days of hope," Crosby said.
Detroit snuffed that flicker a couple of nights later, of course, although the Penguins were pushing for a tying goal even as time ran out on their season.
The stakes tonight will be microscopic compared to those the last time the Penguins visited Joe Louis, when nothing less than their season was on the line.
"It's not going to feel the same as the other games," Crosby said. "It's not. It can't."
The hard truth is, you see, the game tonight will be one of 82 during the regular season -- an interconference one, at that.
A victory for either team wouldn't have nearly the significance of one this spring. Nonetheless, it's likely there will be a bit more passion than might otherwise be found in a mid-November game between teams that meet no more than twice during the regular season.
"There's definitely extra meaning, no question about it," Staal said. "It's going to be an exciting game. There's still a bitter feeling, I'm sure, in this dressing room for a few players."
Should the Penguins happen to need a little extra motivation, they might be able to find it in the arena rafters, where a banner toasting the Red Wings' most recent Cup hangs.
"I'm sure I might glance up at it," Staal said. "Maybe it will add a little fuel to the fire."
Most of his teammates seem inclined to ignore it. Or, at the very least, won't make a conscious effort to locate it.
"I won't look up at the banner," winger Tyler Kennedy said. "This is a new year. You have to move on."
The Penguins don't begrudge the Red Wings their banner, and they don't second-guess much about what they did during the final. There are things they'd like to change -- the outcome, mostly -- but they aren't obsessing about what happened the last time they faced the Red Wings.
"We didn't win, and they put the banner up," Scuderi said. "They did a good job. They deserved to win it. But, at the same time, I won't not look or look. I'll remember it either way, whether I see the banner or not."
Dave Molinari can be reached at email@example.com . First Published November 11, 2008 5:00 AM