Detroit View: Red Wings thrust Hockeytown into new situation

'This is our job. This is what we prepare for.'

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Detroit is spoiled when it comes to hockey. Stanley Cups do not come without a good measure of blood and sweat. The Red Wings understand that. There's no panic in their words or deeds as they approach the biggest challenge of their season tonight.

Fatigue is not an option. Not now. Not with an eight-month marathon reduced to a best-of-three sprint to the Cup. Not with an equally skilled challenger possibly finding championship steadiness within its young legs.

What is interesting is that this is unusual terrain that the Red Wings are navigating.

This is the first time in their six Stanley Cup finals since 1995 that they are 2-2 after four games. Hockeytown is not accustomed to such drama at the finals' midway point. They have won in a four-game sweep, lost in a sweep once and twice found themselves ahead, 3-1, approaching Game 5 at Joe Louis Arena with parade plans already discussed.

In just two games, inevitability eroded to probability.

The Red Wings still control this series, but they must overcome the perception that in two games, they have gone from experienced and wily to tired and old.

Four games in six days took a physical toll. They were unrecognizable in the second period of Game 4, offensively indecisive and defensively inefficient. But a lack of rest is not a justifiable excuse when you are this close to claiming the prize.

They're tired ... of waiting, waiting for Marian Hossa to finally light the lamp against his old team ... waiting for Tomas Holmstrom to create more havoc in front of Penguins goalie Marc-Andre Fleury ... waiting for Pavel Datsyuk to return and give Henrik Zetterberg a much-deserved breather defensively shadowing Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin.

"I've said this many times during this playoff run," coach Mike Babcock said yesterday. "The greatest thing about this trophy is how hard it is [to win]. And, when you have injuries, it's harder. Suck it up and find a way to win. Who cares? No one cares except about the team who wins it in the end. You get your name on that thing, and it's the greatest summer of your life. That's still our plan."

The loss of a Hart Trophy finalist isn't inconsequential. Just ask the Penguins. Last year after the finals, Malkin admitted to an empty fuel tank, the rigors of carrying Crosby's load during a lengthy regular-season injury absence finally caught up to him when the Penguins needed him most.

How much remains in the Red Wings' tank? The answer will determine whether or not they get that 12th Stanley Cup.

"This is our job," Zetterberg said. "This is what we prepare for."

The pressure is on the Penguins, who needed a two-game home sweep to keep the final curtain from closing early. But, after losing the first two in Detroit, they needed to hold serve at home -- and also take Game 5 to snatch the Cup away from the Red Wings.

Rest won't be an issue following tonight because there will be two days between games.

"We had a push but we didn't have any energy," Babcock said. "Is that because we're worn right out? Or is it 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 other team gets more excited. We're going to find this all out [tonight]."

It's a new challenge for Hockeytown -- the deadlocked finals after four games. But it's also a simple proposition for a spoiled city. If the Red Wings lose three games in a row, they don't deserve the Cup.


Drew Sharp is a columnist for the Detroit Free Press. He can be reached at dsharp@freepress.com .


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