DETROIT -- With so much attention being paid to the value of his team's experience, Red Wings coach Mike Babcock has felt compelled throughout these Stanley Cup Finals to keep reminding everyone of one important detail.
|Chris Osgood shut out the Penguins in the first two games. (US Presswire)|
Especially against teams that have nothing to lose, although considering the unmistakable look of resignation worn by many of the Penguins and coach Michel Therrien after their crushing Game 4 loss, it would be fair to wonder if Pittsburgh hasn't already done so.
"It's going to be extra difficult," conceded Pittsburgh forward Marian Hossa.
Still, the series isn't over until a fourth win is in the books, a lesson Babcock and the Red Wings learned in the previous round when they were in the same potential clinching position against the Dallas Stars.
Detroit had been similarly superior in most facets of the game throughout that series -- controlling the puck, winning the majority of the faceoffs and playing stifling defense -- and the Red Wings came home for the fifth game leading 3-1 as well. But instead of closing things out, the Red Wings allowed the Stars to take advantage of a couple of critical mistakes and force a return to Dallas.
"We weren't flat, we were just nervous really early and we didn't execute," Babcock said about his team's last Game 5 experience. "That's something we'll have to try to avoid. I mean, we try to play the same and we have a simple blueprint or foundation we go to, but what makes you win is the will and the determination of great players who want to be successful.
"We have to get that to come to the forefront (Monday) night, and we have to control our anxiety level or our activation level and make sure we're at an optimal point." So far that hasn't been much of a problem for the veteran Red Wings, who have shown nothing but patience and composure regardless of the situation in this series. They dominated the Penguins at home in the first two games, and fought back from early deficits twice in Pittsburgh, winning once and very nearly pulling out the other game.
The Red Wings have had two-way contributions from most of the players in their lineup, while Pittsburgh has seen several of its key players like Evgeni Malkin, Petr Sykora, Ryan Malone and Jordan Staal disappear in this series. And in goal, Detroit's Chris Osgood has outplayed counterpart Marc-Andre Fleury.
If that trend continues, the Red Wings will likely avoid the need to win a fourth consecutive series on the road and instead get to have the traditional Stanley Cup skate on their own ice. It's something that's obviously on the minds of the Red Wings, but given the been-there, done-that background of so many of their players, they are not looking that far ahead.
"It's the Stanley Cup Final and we still have to win the fourth game," defenseman Niklas Kronwall said. "That's never easy so you have to focus on what you need to do for 60 minutes and come out and have a good push from the start."
Interestingly, while the importance of a good start has been discussed in this series nearly as much as Detroit's experience, it has been the finishing touches the Red Wings have applied that have made the difference. Detroit has outscored Pittsburgh 6-1 in the final periods of the four games so far, and it has outshot the Penguins 45-24 in the last 20 minutes of games. More important, it has limited Pittsburgh's dangerous power-play unit to just two goals in 17 tries.
"It just comes down to puck management," Penguins defenseman Darryl Sydor said. "Right now they have it and we need to just be confident and composed."
Which is a lot easier said than done for a young Pittsburgh team that has tried to sound upbeat in the wake of a demoralizing home loss in Game 4. But if they look at things objectively, the Penguins will realize they've won just one period of play against the Red Wings in this series, and were unable to score in the first two games in Detroit.
In other words, it's not a very good place to be right now. "I've been there with Tampa," Sydor said of his seven-game 2004 Stanley Cup winning experience. "We had to go into Calgary and win Game 6 and that was a pretty hostile environment there.
"But the team that wants to keep playing, plays with a lot of desperation and urgency, and just never says die. And that's what we're going to do tomorrow. We're going to make it very tough."