Goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury was pulled from Saturday night's 5-0 loss in Game 5 of the Stanley Cup final after allowing five goals on the 21 shots he faced. It was only the second time in his career that he was lifted from a postseason game.
But there was little doubt yesterday from coach Dan Bylsma and veteran winger Bill Guerin that Fleury would put the embarrassment of that performance behind him in time to be prepared for Game 6 tomorrow night at Mellon Arena.
"It wasn't his fault the situation we were in," Bylsma said. "It was the situation of pucks getting behind him and hitting sticks and [three] power-play goals. It was a situation where taking him out was a chance to give him a break and give him a chance and give our team a bit of an awakening. Get a new guy in there and if that would spark us to get us focused on playing the game better.
"But Marc is the guy who is going in for Game 6. We believe in him. I know he's the type of guy who is going to be ready for Game 6. He's going to be focused, and he's going to want to go out there and play his best game of the series. I know that every guy in the room wants to see him in the net for Game 6. They believe in him. They're confident in him, and they know he's going to respond."
If there is one positive for the Penguins entering Game 6 it's that Fleury has played well at Mellon Arena this postseason. He played his two best games of the Stanley Cup final in Games 3 and 4, when he stopped 64 of 68 shots.
"I think he's going to be just fine," Guerin said. "This is a guy who comes in literally fresh every day. Every day is a new day. He's always got a smile on his face. He's ready to go. He's got a great type of personality to let things just roll off his shoulders and refocus and have fun with it."
Detroit Red Wings standout center Pavel Datsyuk played for the first time in the series in Game 5 and had two assists. Bylsma said Datsyuk's presence on the ice was evident in how the Red Wings played offense.
"I think the one thing that was clearly evident in that game was his line got to the offensive zone more with the puck and had more offensive zone time," Bylsma said. "His ability to hold onto the puck and also use his linemates and use his defense in the offensive zone created more zone time, created more pucks in and around our goalie and made us play defense a little more.
"He's an elite player. That's what he does. They're fortunate getting him back in whatever capacity he was. He's certainly a big factor in the game. We're going to have to almost take a more defensive stance when he's out there."
Each team has held serve in the first five games by winning in their home arena. Other than the tactical advantage of getting the last change at home, Bylsma believes the energy of the hometown crowds have produced positive results for both teams.
"There is extra jump at home," he said. "You're familiar with your rink, you're familiar with the surroundings and that does help out. Sometimes on the road it's a special performance that you need when the teams are two very good teams.
"They've come up big at home. We've answered with our two wins and now we get a chance to answer back in Game 6. We're going to use our crowd. They're going to come out in full force, and they're going to spur us on. Our team will be focused. Hopefully, we take advantage of the small advantages that home does bring you. Hopefully, we can do that in Game 6 and force us to [Game] 7."
Even if the Penguins don't win the Stanley Cup this season there is a general consensus that this team will get more opportunities to win the next several years because young stars Fleury, Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Jordan Staal are signed to long-term contracts.
But for a veteran such as Guerin, who is 38 years old, this might be the final opportunity for him to win another championship.
"You never know what the future holds for opportunities and chances to win the Cup," Guerin said. "But I know where I'm at in my career. I know they're going to have to kick me out of this league because I want to keep playing as long as I can. But the opportunity is now. The opportunity is now for a 38-year-old and it's now for a 22-year-old and for a 28-year-old. The opportunity is now and you have to take it when you've got the opportunity because it could be 14 years before you get the next one."
Ray Fittipaldo can be reached at email@example.com or 412-263-1230.