The day has finally come. Game 7. Winner take all. Emptying the tank. We've heard it all.
But talking about being ready and doing it is another thing altogether.
Since Detroit coach Mike Babcock and Pittsburgh coach Dan Bylsma
have made a habit out of regaling us with stories of their Game 7 experience in 2003, when both were with the Anaheim Ducks
and lost to New Jersey, let's go back there one more time with emphasis.
It was 0-0 for a long time. Then ...
"We were a very good team until they scored," Babcock said. "Then we were paralyzed. We started worrying about what wasn't going to happen instead of just playing the game.
"Sometimes I think that's what happens at this point: the prize gets in the way of the execution and the details of the game."
So that means, be focused, but stay loose and the prize is right there for the taking.
Home is where ... --
The Red Wings are confident that home-ice advantage, which has been so good for them throughout the playoffs, will be on their side once again at Joe Louis Arena Friday night.
"We feel confident playing here at home where we've had a lot of success," Nicklas Lidstrom
said. "But we know we can't take anything for granted, because we know they're going to be playing well."
For the record, the odds seem to back the Wings:
* Consider Detroit's home record in these playoffs is 11-1.
* Home team's have gone 12-2 in the previous 14 Stanley Cup Final Game 7s.
* In the six previous Stanley Cup Final games against the Penguins, the Red Wings have gone 5-1 and have outscored Pittsburgh, 21-6, outshot them, 213-159, have allowed one goal or less five times (including three shutouts) and have led or been tied 89 percent of the time.
* The only team to win Game 7 on the road in the Stanley Cup Final after the home team won the first six games was the 1971 Montreal Canadiens
* In the NHL, Major League Baseball and NBA since 1980, home teams are 18-0 in Game 7s of championship series.
And, as much as the Penguins would like to throw out their 5-0 debacle at Detroit in Game 5, the fact remains that Pittsburgh has scored just two goals in its three trips to Detroit.
No tanking it now --
Pittsburgh's Ruslan Fedotenko
, aka "The Tank," has been a pretty popular guy these last few days because he scored both goals for Tampa Bay in a Game 7 in the 2004 Stanley Cup Final against Calgary.
But it's not about individuals, says Fedotenko.
"Everyone has to bring their piece to the whole puzzle and do their job," the 30-year-old veteran said. "It's not about who is scoring.
"It's about the win. At this point, it doesn't matter who scores, we've just got to get a W and win the Cup."
All world event --
Red Wings captain Nicklas Lidstrom
has never played in such an important Game 7. In fact, Detroit is playing in its first Game 7 for the Stanley Cup since 1964 -- and the Wings lost that one to Toronto. The last Game 7 in Detroit for the Cup that they won came in 1955 against Montreal.
"It's something new for me, too. It's one game to win it all. It's what you see in the Olympics and the world championships," said Lidstrom, who is going for his fifth Stanley Cup like teammates Kris Draper
, Kirk Maltby
, Tomas Holmstrom
and Darren McCarty
. "That's our approach, just win one more game."
"It's something you dream about your whole life, having this opportunity in Game 7," added Babcock. "In front of our crowd, with the city and the state and the way it is right now economically, it's been fantastic.
"It's a dream you've had. But now you get to control that dream."
Hossa's last chance --
Mike Babcock said he chatted with Marian Hossa
ahead of the seventh game of the Stanley Cup Final in a bid to relax the struggling star winger.
The story is simple. Hossa left Pittsburgh to come to Detroit because he thought the Red Wings gave him the best chance to finally win a Cup. He had 40 goals to lead the Wings in the regular season, but has had only six goals and nine assists in the playoffs after putting up 12 goals and 14 assists for the Penguins in last year's postseason. He's had no goals and just three assists in the first six games against Pittsburgh in this year's Final.
"The big thing Hossa has to understand is all he's got to do is do what he does," Babcock said. "We've talked about that. I asked him who scored the goals for Detroit in Game 6 last year in the Final? He didn't know, and neither did I. That's the facts. But I knew we won. Doesn't matter who scores the goals, none of that matters. What matters is do your part and allow the team to win. He'll do that. He'll be great."
Hossa seemed more at ease after the conversation with his coach. Still, he tried to explain the pressure he's been under ... under the circumstances.
"You're answering questions every day about Pittsburgh and stuff like that," Hossa said. "You've got the history there. But it comes down to the last game. Don't focus on all that things surrounding the game. Just be yourself, relax and have fun, enjoy yourself, because who knows when this can happen again."
No board game for Fleury --
Penguins goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury
won't let the springy Joe Louis backboards nor the fact he's lost all three games in Detroit in this series, including a 5-0 loss in Game 5 in which he was pulled 15:40 into the second period.
"It doesn't matter what we've done there before, or the games we lost there, it's a matter of going and playing our game," he said. "Just play that one game. That's it."
And remember the 55-save effort at "The Joe" in Game 5 a year ago. Or the breakaway save against Dan Cleary
in the final two minutes of Game 6 at Pittsburgh on Tuesday.
More net thoughts --
Red Wings goalie Chris Osgood
said Thursday he wasn't nervous about Game 7.
"I feel pretty good. For us, every time you have a chance to win the Cup, it's like a Game 7 anyway," he observed. "It's no different, really. It's another game we have an opportunity to win the Cup. It will be a real fun game to play in."
The experience of playing so long in a winning atmosphere gives you that confidence, says Osgood.
"I feel pretty good. For us, every time you have a chance to win the Cup, it's like a Game 7 anyway. It's no different, really. It's another game we have an opportunity to win the Cup. It will be a real fun game to play in."
-- Chris Osgood
"It's a calmness," Osgood continued. "I've learned it from watching champions all my career in Detroit. Guys like Scotty Bowman. Steve Yzerman
. Igor Larionov
. Brendan Shanahan
. Nick Lidstrom. And more. It's just something that's been handed down here -- the experience and know-how on how to approach games in the playoffs."
One more speech -- Dan Bylsma
's eyes lit up when someone asked him if he had trouble convincing his team of the importance of Game 7.
That's kind of ironic actually. Here's this guy, who is in his first year as head coach in the minors -- and he gets the call to report to Pittsburgh ... report to the NHL ... to replace Michel Therrien
on Feb. 15.
The team is in disarray. Out of the playoff hunt at the time. New guy. New voice. Players who may be ambivalent to all of the above. But he got them on the same page. And now, here they are one day away from Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final -- the dream of every kid growing up in his backyard or on the driveway or at a drafty old rink.
The message this inexperienced coach had for them then as it is now is: Don't leave anything in your tank.
"The game by nature is aggressive. In-your-face and confrontational," he said, smiling widely. "If you're not playing it that way, you know it. You know when another team's taking it to you. You know when you're waiting or letting the play come to you."
Every player at this point of the year hungers for the chance to win it all.
"That's the agony and the beautiful thing of sport, that we play a game and we play it for some great reasons ... to win a Cup, to win a trophy, to be the best," Bylsma said. "When you don't get it, it's painful.
"When you get it, it's glorious and you get a lot of good pictures. You take the bad ones if you don't win and you put them in a basement in a box somewhere. We're looking for the picture we can hang on the wall."
Watch and learn --
Penguins defenseman Rob Scuderi
was effusive in his praise of the Red Wings in preparation for Game 7.
"They're a great team," he said. "We've been watching them all year and throughout the playoffs. Sometimes the TV doesn't do them justice.
"We're proud of the fact we've been able to take them to seven games. They're the champions, they're still playing like it, and that's our goal to take them down."