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For Pens, winning at 'The Joe' important

by Larry Wigge /
DETROIT -- If you believe in trends, then the Pittsburgh Penguins may have to rev it up a notch or two more than they anticipated in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Finals against the Detroit Red Wings.


Detroit brings an NHL-best 8-1 record at home into the Finals. More important, the Red Wings haven't lost Game 1 of a series since April 26, 2007, 2-0, at home against San Jose.

Since then, the Wings have gone 8-0 in the first game of a playoff series. In fact, until the Anaheim Ducks won Game 2 of the Western Conference Semifinals in triple overtime this year, Detroit had won the first two games of their last five playoff series.

Home on the road -- Defenseman Brooks Orpik says the Penguins are ready for the Joe Louis Arena crowd. In fact, he looks at it was an advantage to Pittsburgh.

"Sometimes starting on the road is an advantage," Orpik said. "We're an aggressive team that looks to play our game and force the other team to play our high-energy style. Sometimes when you're at home, your crowd expects all of that offense.

"Here, we don't have to play to the fans."

Detroit Red Wings Western Conference Champs GearFewer minutes for Lebda -- Red Wings defenseman Brett Lebda said he's prepared to play another 20-25 minutes should he be asked to like in Game 5 against Chicago in the Western Conference Finals when he chipped in with assists on both of Detroit's goals in a 2-1 overtime victory over the Blackhawks.

"But with Nick (Lidstrom) and E (Jonathan Ericsson) back, I'll be back to playing fewer minutes, but important nonetheless," Lebda explained.

Lidstrom and Ericsson both missed Game 5 against Chicago, but are ready to go in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final.

If you listen to Lebda that's great for Detroit, but ...

"It's scary to think that we played our best two games of the playoffs in our last two games in Games 4 and 5 against Chicago," he said. "With Nick (Lidstrom) and Pavel (Datsyuk) out, we had to be more focused.

"It was clear there was no panic in our room. Honestly, I think we're just start to play defense the way we can and starting to click offensively."

Select company -- When the Penguins completed a four-game sweep of the Hurricanes with a 4-1 victory at Raleigh. Dan Bylsma became only the fourth rookie head coach to reach the Stanley Cup Finals as a mid-season replacement. The others were Punch Imlach for the Toronto Maple Leafs in 1959, Scotty Bowman for the St. Louis Blues in 1968, and Al MacNeil for the Montreal Canadiens in 1971.

"I couldn't have imagined that inside of 12 months that this is the situation I would find myself in," Bylsma said of taking his first head coaching job in the minors before this season with the Pens Wilkes-Barre team in the American Hockey League and then becoming interim head coach in Pittsburgh and posting an 18-3-4 roll in the final 25 games of the regular season and then advancing all the way to the Cup Finals. "Did I have goals and aspirations? And did I think it was a possibility?

"I hope I was gathering experience and working toward a day like this. I thought I could be. But certainly inside of 12 months, I never would have taken that bet."

Pens note crease crashers -- The Penguins ran through their pre-game notes Friday night and two things were foremost in the preparation -- now they know just how effective Detroit crease-crashers Tomas Holmstrom, Johan Franzen and Dan Cleary can be after seeing a lot of those players in the six-game Finals a year ago and playing them twice -- home and home -- this season. The other item on in the pre-game talks was the lively boards in Joe Louis Arena.

"If they didn't know about Holmstrom, Franzen and Cleary before, it doesn't take long to figure it out," said defenseman Philippe Boucher, acquired from Dallas since last year for defenseman Daryl Sydor. "Holmstom had made a living out of crowding the goal crease. He's the best at it. You've got to get to him before he gets there, because you can't move him.

"Franzen and Cleary flit in and out of that area in front of the net and are probably more difficult to defend there."

Said defenseman Brooks Orpik, "We learned how strong Holmstrom is and how effective he can be. We may front them like Chicago did. But what we don't want to do is battle with them in front and create a double screen in front of our goalie."

On the lively boards topic, Orpik said, "We started talking about the boards at Joe Louis Arena as soon as we knew we were going to be in the Final and that Detroit might be our opponent. The boards are so springy here that we started to practice intentionally missing the net and making sure our forwards were aware the puck could rebound out in front very quickly."

Shoot early, shoot often -- The Red Wings had 46 shots on goal in Game Five and have now had at least 30 shots on goal in a single-season NHL playoff record 13 consecutive games. Detroit had been tied with the 1974 Bruins.

Pittsburgh Penguins Eastern Conference Champs GearOne happy Penguin -- Bill Guerin couldn't be happier than to be in Pittsburgh playing at times with Sidney Crosby and other times with Evgeni Malkin.

When Guerin was told the New York Islanders were going to trade him to the Penguins for his eighth NHL stop he wasn't sure he wanted to make another move. But he's flourished, getting 5 goals and 7 assists in the team's final 17 regular-season games and adding seven goals and seven assists in 17 playoff games -- which is third on the Penguins behind Crosby and Malkin.

"My wife, Kara, said let's just do this and she told me to enjoy it," he said. "She's right. I think my time's right now."

Though the Pens were out of the playoffs at the time of the NHL trading deadline-day deal in early March, Guerin knew they had the potential to make it back to the Stanley Cup Finals for the second straight year.

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