Penguins need a total team effort if they are to extend the series
Sidney Crosby and Sergei Gonchar take a break during practice yesterday at Mellon Arena. The Penguins and Red Wings meet tonight in Game 6.
Marc-Andre Fleury will be back in goal tonight for Game 6 at Mellon Arena.
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The Penguins figure they have a pretty good idea of what they will have to do to survive Game 6 of the Stanley Cup final at Mellon Arena tonight.
And there is not a surprising syllable on the list.
Make good decisions. Forecheck vigorously. Get timely saves. Win the special-teams battle. Finish their checks.
Sounds like a page cut-and-pasted from a book of coaching cliches.
Conspicuously absent is any reference to Hal Gill galloping up ice to lead rushes at Detroit goalie Chris Osgood, Craig Adams chipping in a hat trick or Marc-Andre Fleury flagging down every puck that flutters within 20 feet of his crease.
Trouble is, when the end of a team's season is imminent -- lose tonight, and the Penguins will watch the Detroit Red Wings celebrate a championship here for the second year in a row -- players can be tempted to try to stretch beyond their limitations, to go from being part of their team to its savior.
Matchup: Detroit Red Wings at Penguins, 8:20 p.m. today, Mellon Arena.
TV, radio: WPXI; WXDX-FM (105.9).
Series: Red Wings, 3-2.
Probable goaltenders: Marc-Andre Fleury for Penguins. Chris Osgood for Red Wings.
Penguins: Are 8-2 at home, including victories in Games 3 and 4 of Cup final, during 2009 playoffs. ... LW Chris Kunitz has one goal in 22 games, tying for 12th most on team. ... Have lost consecutive games just twice in these playoffs.
Red Wings: Are 10-1 when getting first goal of game. ... RW Marian Hossa does not have goal in six games. ... Own all-time record of 28-21 in sixth game of series.
Hidden stat: Red Wings are 8-0 in games decided by three or more goals.
Totally understandable. And completely counter-productive.
"We know we have to win this as a team," Gill said yesterday. "[The Red Wings] play a really good team game. That's what makes them successful. We have a lot of skill, a lot of players who can do that, take the game into their own hands.
"But it's not going to work against these guys. We have to stick to our game plan, play well as a team and then let our skill take care of it."
Consequently, the Penguins' objective tonight is not to have one or two guys carry them past the Red Wings and into a seventh game with superhuman efforts; it is to get 19 or 20 guys performing to their potential.
"We don't need one person to go out and be the difference-maker," coach Dan Bylsma said. "We need our team to play better. We need to play the way we know how to play, the way we've shown we can play.
"We need to make sure the attention, the focus and desperation level is there that as a team we go out and put our best game on the ice."
World-class talents such as Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin might be able to seize control of Game 6 -- just as Henrik Zetterberg, Pavel Datsyuk or Marian Hossa could for Detroit -- and perhaps it would be fitting for one to do it on the 25th anniversary of Mario Lemieux being drafted by the Penguins.
Nonetheless, Bylsma won't give Crosby and Malkin an inordinate amount of responsibility for how the Penguns fare tonight. Nor will he suggest that Crosby's linemates, Bill Guerin and Chris Kunitz, must get their first goals of the series in Game 6 to give his team a legitimate shot at winning.
"We don't need one person to go out and score a goal," Bylsma said. "We don't need just Billy Guerin to step up his game. Everyone needs to be ready to have the puck on their stick and make the play or make the defensive play or block the shot or make the save."
The Penguins did not do any of that often in their 5-0 loss at Joe Louis Arena in Game 5 Saturday. Deflating as that defeat was, though, the Penguins professed to be over it by the time they convened for practice yesterday.
"It's not like everybody's down," forward Max Talbot said. "We're loose, focused and we know the importance of Game 6."
And, thanks to their experience in Game 5, they are aware of what the Red Wings can do to a team that strays from a team-oriented game.
"We've gotten to this point by sticking to a game plan, and living and dying by it," Guerin said. "That's what we're going to have to do. We can't go off on our own page now.
"Maybe we saw a little bit of that the other night. You see where it gets you."
Yeah, in a position where there is virtually no margin for error. Where any check that is missed, any rebound that is not cleared, any assignment that is blown can be the mistake that ends their season.
"I think guys realize that when the chips are down, you have to be at your best," Crosby said. "And it takes everybody in order to get great results."
Turn in that kind of team-wide performance tonight and the Penguins can transform a series that began as a best-of-seven-games into a best-of-60-minutes.
"We have to win one game at home, and we're going back [to Detroit] for Game 7," Talbot said. "And then, anything can happen."
First Published June 9, 2009 12:00 am