Penguins Notebook: Six-pack of favorites emerges, but no clearcut MVP pick yet

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The Stanley Cup will not be the only thing up for grabs when the Penguins face the Red Wings in Game 7 of the Stanley Cup final tomorrow at Joe Louis Arena in Detroit.

The recipient of the Conn Smythe Trophy, which goes to the most valuable player in the playoffs, might well be determined by how that game plays out.

Although the Smythe can go to a player on any team, it generally is awarded to someone who plays for the champion, and that figures to be the case this year because no one clearly has distanced himself from the field.

The top three candidates from each team, at least at this point, listed alphabetically:

Dan Cleary. A darkhorse, he had an excellent second round against Anaheim, which posed the greatest threat to defeat the Red Wings until they reached the final.

Sidney Crosby. Despite routinely playing against the opponent's top defense pairing and best checking line, he still ranks second in the playoff scoring race with 31 points. Tying a league record with six first goals will not hurt his candidacy.

Game 7: The Penguins' legacy

Tomorrow night will mark the 11th time the Penguins have gone to a Game 7. They are 6-4 in their previous Game 7s. Their Game 7 history:

1975: New York Islanders -- Quarterfinals, L 1-0

1989: Philadelphia Flyers -- Second round, L 4-1

1991: New Jersey Devils -- First round, W 4-0

1992: Washington Capitals -- First round, W 3-1

1993: New York Islanders -- Second round, L 4-3 •

1995: Washington Capitals -- First round, W 3-0

1996: Florida Panthers -- Conference finaL L 4-3

1999: New Jersey Devils -- First round, W 4-2

2001: Buffalo Sabres -- Second round, W 3-2 • •

2009 Washington Capitals -- Second round, W 6-2

• - Overtime
• • - Two overtimes

Marc-Andre Fleury. If the Penguins are to win Game 7, they likely will need a performance from Fleury rivaling the one he put forth in Game 6. Toss in the signature saves he has made along the way -- on Jeff Carter (Philadelphia), Alex Ovechkin (Washington), Eric Staal (Carolina) and Cleary late in Game 6 Tuesday night -- and Fleury could get some serious support.

Evgeni Malkin. He is about to add a playoff scoring title to the one he earned during the regular season and looks like a toss-up with Crosby as the favorite if the Penguins win Game 7.

Chris Osgood. Much as Ron Francis once did, he is starting to get recognition for not getting recognition. He has given up few soft goals and has a knack for making timely saves for the Red Wings.

Henrik Zetterberg. He got the Smythe in 2008, and his strong two-way play puts him high on the list of possibilities this year, too.

Two guys who will not show up on many, if any, of the 10 Smythe ballots when they are being tabulated are Penguins defenseman Rob Scuderi and Detroit center Darren Helm. Take them out the mix, however, and odds are neither of their teams makes it this far.

Sykora out

Penguins right winger Petr Sykora will miss Game 7 because of a broken right foot.

He was injured blocking a shot in the second period of the Penguins' 2-1 victory in Game 6 Tuesday.

That was Sykora's first appearance in a game since May 4. He logged 6:31 of ice time while playing on the fourth line.

Miroslav Satan, who lost his job to Sykora in Game 6, is the early favorite to replace Sykora for Game 7.

More goals needed

Part of the reason the Penguins figure to need a world-class performance out of Fleury to have a chance at winning Game 7 is that they have had trouble manufacturing goals at Joe Louis Arena, with just two in three games during the final.

Detroit's tenacious team defense and Osgood's goaltending have contributed significantly to that, but coach Dan Bylsma believes the Penguins can be more productive tomorrow if they stick to some basic principles.

"This is a scenario where we need to be focused on getting as many pucks to the net as we can," he said yesterday. "Forty-plus shots would be a great recipe to figure out how to get more goals there.

"It's pucks and bodies to the net, not passing up opportunities on getting pucks there, going there as hard as we can. Trying to manufacture any dirty goal we can get."

Tip-ins

The Penguins are 6-4 in Game 7s -- 4-0 on the road -- and Detroit is 12-7 with three consecutive victories. ... Game 7 in the Cup final has gone to overtime twice (1950, '54). ... Bylsma gave the Penguins yesterday off. They will practice at Mellon Arena this morning before flying to Detroit.


Dave Molinari can be reached at dmolinari@post-gazette.com .


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