The Pittsburgh Penguins
tried to make their preparations for Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final as normal as possible Friday.
That means the full team -- minus the injured Petr Sykora
-- took the morning skate, working hard for 45 minutes. It was quite the contrast to the veteran Red Wings, who held an optional skate that was largely ignored by the team's veteran core.
"Billy Guerin might not like that a whole lot, but most of the guys are out there," Captain Sidney Crosby
said, smiling as he took a poke at his veteran linemate. "We've always liked to skate on game days unless we're playing back-to-back games or something like that. It's pretty rare for us not to (skate). So, we might as well keep it the same."
For hockey players, normalcy is the savior when the stakes get high and the games become larger than life. And, there is no bigger game than tonight's winner-take-all Game 7 against Detroit at Joe Louis Arena (8 p.m. ET, NBC, CBC, RDS).
"When you get to a game day, and you get to a morning skate, and you get to a meeting, and you get to going back to the hotel for lunch and then getting some rest, then getting up at the same time you get up always, that is normal," Pittsburgh coach Dan Bylsma
said. "That feels comfortable because you've done it so many times before.
"It does provide the structure, does provide the atmosphere that you can say this is just another game. We're going out to play something we've done (so many times). The structure does give you that sense of, hey, this is just another game."
The routine of morning skate, team meal, nap, team meeting might provide the necessary structure for the players, but it cannot totally obliterate the magnitude of this game.
The Stanley Cup -- the trophy that every one of the players involved in Friday night's game has lusted over for years -- will be in the building Friday night. After 60 minutes of hockey (maybe more if overtime is required) Commissioner Gary Bettman will hand the trophy to either Detroit captain Nick Lidstrom or Crosby, the Pittsburgh captain.
"You can kid yourself and say it's a normal game," Pittsburgh defenseman Hal Gill
said. "But it's a big game. I think by treating it as a normal game, you can go about your business as usual and rely on your preparation."
So, will Gill be able to stick to his routine in the face of such high stakes?
"You get used to it, playing in all these games, that's what you do, you get your rest," Gill said
For some of the younger players, rest will not come easy on Friday afternoon as they fight the inevitable nerves that come from playing a game that will determine not only this year's champion, but the legacy of every player involved.
Win Friday night and your name is engraved on the Stanley Cup and you and your teammates will walk together forever as champions. Lose and you will face a lifetime of regret.
"You want to be excited, but not too much," Pittsburgh defenseman Kris Letang
said. "You want to be focused, you want to be ready for the game and make sure you are calm. But at the same time, it's normal to be excited. For me, it is the biggest game of my entire life, so I will bring everything to it."
And, in the end, that is all that matters to Bylsma. He wants all of his players to bring everything they have to Friday night's Game 7.
"This one is going out and playing the game," Bylsma said. "We know how we need to play, and it's about playing that way and not getting caught up and putting your toe in the water and seeing how hot or cold the water is. This is one you jump off the end of the dock and you dive right in.
"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."