Penguins Notebook: Sykora becomes unrestricted free agent July 1; likely gone

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DETROIT -- Knowing that his team was playing in Game 7 of the Stanley Cup final last night lifted Petr Sykora's spirits and made him forget that he might have played his last game for the Penguins.

"That's the last thing on my mind right now," he said yesterday, hours before the Penguins faced the Detroit Red Wings at Joe Louis Arena.

They did so without Sykora, whose right foot was broken when he blocked a shot in Game 6.

Sykora is eligible to become an unrestricted free agent July 1. He had 25 goals last year and 53 in two seasons with the Penguins, but the chances of him re-signing likely dropped after he went into a stretch-drive slump and was a healthy scratch for most of the playoffs.

"Who knows?" he said. "I just worry about that I want to win this game. I feel that we deserve to win this game. Seriously, I don't think about it."

After sitting out 14 postseason games in a row and 16 of 18 dating to the first round, Sykora got back in the lineup Tuesday. He had no points and was limited to 6:31 of ice time, at least partly because he dove to make a big block about midway through the second period.

"You have to pay a price to get where you are, and a lot of guys have paid a price," Sykora said. "I was just trying to make sure that every single shift I did something positive. I feel like I did that.

"It is disappointing. I felt I had a strong hockey game in Game 6."

Sykora, wearing a suit and an orthopedic boot on his right foot, joked that he was "still a game-time decision" to play last night.

Asked if he had been given clearance to go on the ice in his boot to help celebrate or console his teammates after the game, Sykora hedged.

"It's bad luck to talk about it," he said. "Obviously, it crossed my mind, but I don't want to talk about it."

Strait will sign

Boston University defenseman Brian Strait will skip his senior season to sign with the Penguins.

"Obviously, we're disappointed," BU coach Jack Parker told U.S. College Hockey Online. "We're losing a very, very good player at a key position and a senior who gives us experience, but also a senior who was co-captain of the team. All of that is a big loss."

Strait, who is 6 foot 1, 200 pounds, was a third-round draft choice in 2006.

He is a defensive defenseman who had five goals and 18 assists in 111 career games at Boston University.

Long season ends

Long before the outcome of Game 7 was known, one thing was certain: It was going to be the final game of the season.

That means members of both teams will, for the first day since last fall, wake up without a practice or game to prepare for. Or, at least, to anticipate.

"You battle and you win to go further and further and further [in the playoffs]," Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said. "You know, you go to Game 7 in Round 2 to get to the next round. You seem like you're playing for your team's life. Now, it will be over after tonight.

"It's going to be a good thing for one team. The other team's going to wish it was a nine-game series."

Similar tale

Several of the Red Wings noticed that Game 7 was not the only Pittsburgh-Detroit matchup last night. The Tigers were on the road to open a series against the Pirates at PNC Park.

"That's kind of ironic, interleague play and they're in Pittsburgh," Detroit winger Kirk Maltby said. "Hopefully, they don't get bothered or harassed too much there."

Same routine

Most of Detroit's regulars declined to go on the ice for the pre-game skate, while the Penguins held a conventional day-of-game session.

The Red Wings decided it was more important for players to be able to rest, while the Penguins believed that sticking to their usual routine mattered more.

"We've always liked to skate on game days, unless we're playing back-to-back games or something like that," center Sidney Crosby said. "It's pretty rare for us not to, so we might as well keep it the same."

Part of the reason for not straying from their normal activities might have been to diffuse any tension that was building in the hours leading up to the game.

"It does provide the structure, does provide the atmosphere [in which] you can say this is just another game," Bylsma said. "We're going out to play something we've done 112 times already this year."

Good karma

The Red Wings do not have to look far for historical inspiration. Former greats who played for Detroit -- including 84-year-old Ted Lindsay, Gordie Howe and Steve Yzerman, now a team vice president -- remain close.

"Mr. Lindsay's always [is] in the opening meeting before each round," coach Mike Babcock said. "He sits right in the dressing room in his stall with our team. To me, I think that's a privilege for a coach and a privilege for a player.

"And that Gordie comes in after the game or that Steve comes by, or that these players still care about being a Red Wing.

"To me, those are Original Six things that are very, very special."

Third line a charm

Left winger Matt Cooke, signed as a free agent last summer, spent most of this season on the Penguins' third line with Jordan Staal and Tyler Kennedy, but he is skilled and versatile enough to fill a top-six role occasionally.

That doesn't figure to change in 2009-10.

"At different times, he was the guy that was inserted next to Crosby or [Evgeni] Malkin to give that line a little more jump," Bylsma said. "To give it a little more grit, little more offensive-zone presence. That's the kind of guy he can be.

"He's a guy who pressures other teams. He's in your face, drives the net, creates room for the people around him. That line with Staal and Tyler Kennedy at times has been our best line in getting to the offensive zone in the playoffs and forcing other team's defense to deal with it for long periods of time.

"As a coach, you need different elements to put on the ice, but, when you have a third line with the likes of those three, they can play defense, they can check other teams top lines. A lot of times they're doing that by grinding other teams down in the offensive zone. And he's a big element of it.

"He adds some sandpaper and grit to our lineup. People know he's on the ice. But he's also a guy who adds straight-line work to our team. He's continued to add that way from the time I've gotten here right through the playoffs."

Playoff format OK

Don't look for the Penguins to spearhead a drive to get the league to adopt a 2-3-2 playoff format.

Asked if he'd prefer that or the 2-2-1-1-1 one now being used, defenseman Hal Gill replied simply, "I really couldn't care less."

Finding a teammate who feels differently was tough, although that might not have been the case if the Penguins had played, say, Anaheim in the Cup final and there was more involved in getting between cities than a 40-minute plane ride.

"When it's this close a distance, it's pretty easy," Gill said. "Maybe if it was across the country, it would be tougher."

What kind of impact, if any, the 2-3-2 would have on how a particular series plays out is difficult to project, too.

"It's kind of hard to say," defenseman Mark Eaton said. "If the home team holds serve through five games, it favors the away team [for Games 6 and 7] because you're up, 3-2, with two chances to win a game."


You can reach Shelly Anderson at shanderson@post-gazette.com and Dave Molinari at dmolinari@post-gazette.com .


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