There is no ambiguity about what has to happen on the ice at Joe Louis Arena tonight (8 p.m. ET, NBC, CBC, RDS, NHL Radio) in Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Final.
A win by the Detroit Red Wings
sets off a wild celebration as the Stanley Cup is presented to the winners.
A win by the Penguins closes the Stanley Cup Final to 3-2 and sends the series back to Pittsburgh for a Game 6 Wednesday night.
It's just that simple.
And just that hard.
In terms of degree of difficulty, it may be a tad harder for the Red Wings, who will have to battle through the expectations and distractions of winning the most cherished trophy in sports. Even the most steely of veterans has to sneak a thought or two about carrying Stanley aloft before the adoring home crowd. But those thoughts, as well as calls for tickets, travel plans for family and the like, have to be put at bay. Despite trailing 3-1, the Penguins have improved their game and are coming off a 2-1 loss in Game 4, hardly the outcome that would have Sidney Crosby
and Co. already packed for the summer.
"We've got an intelligent group," Wings coach Mike Babcock said. "We talk about it. It's pretty straightforward. You pick up your phone after the game, and there's like 100 text messages. You can't return them anyway, so just do what you do and all those things look after themselves.
"I think in any walk of life that's what you do," he said. "You just try to enjoy the process. And we have a number of veteran guys who have been through it before and understand what it takes and how hard it is to win. And you gotta win 16 games … 15 doesn't get it done.
"I've been in exactly this situation in the Stanley Cup Final, as a matter of fact," said Babcock, thinking back to the 2003 Final when his Anaheim Ducks
lost to New Jersey in seven games. "Won 15 games and you think that everything's going to go your way, and last time I got to watch someone else lift the Cup.
"So I think what I've gained out of that experience and what I've tried to do through the whole playoffs is understand that it's the best time you could ever be having in your life, besides family things, enjoy every single minute you get to be in the playoffs and enjoy the process of preparing and working and going through matchups and the highs and the lows, and then come in here tomorrow and enjoy that again. And play the best we can possibly play, be as good as we can be, and ideally, that will be good enough."
The talk is similar in the other dressing room.
"We know what we have to do," Crosby said. "We've got to win to stay alive. It's pretty clear and simple. So that's the way we're looking at it. We're going to be desperate here … and all we focus on is winning that game."
And the Penguins team facing the Wings will be different than the one that was shut out in Games 1 and 2 at "The Joe." Those early jitters are gone and as Crosby said, the Penguins know the drill here, so there isn't anything to be nervous about.
"I don't think there's really anything to be nervous about, besides leaving it all out there and seeing what happens," Crosby said. "Like I said, we have to make sure we empty the tank and play desperate and see where that takes us. But I think we learned from Games 1 and 2 and realize that we play our game. And we're going to create chances, and we'll give ourselves a better chance to win."
"Well, we'll be pretty excited," Pens goalie Marc-Andre Fleury
said. "It's a good reason for us to not quit and keep playing hard and trying to have every chance for Pittsburgh. … That's what we want right now. Go out there, get the win, and come back to Pittsburgh.
"If I can stop more pucks and we score more goals, we'll be all right," Fleury said.
Can't make it any simpler than that.
"The way you look at it, you've got to win one," Crosby said. "That's really the way to look at it. You can't look at it as winning the next three. You have to look at it as winning one. And that's our goal, so really you don't have to really look beyond the next game. And we've been in these scenarios before, I think, at different parts in our careers. And you just have to make sure you dig deep and find a way."
The Wings have a core of players who have gone through this before, veterans like captain Nicklas Lidstrom
and a host of others who know what has to be done and just how difficult that can be. That experience level can make the difference, especially in how stressful times are related to other players.
"I think Nick is one of those guys, when you have a chance to be on a team with a guy like that, it helps you to grow as a hockey player, and as a person as well," Wings defenseman Niklas Kronwall
said. "We had a little talk this morning and just want to make sure that all the guys knew what was going on and stay focused on what we need to do.
"Of course, it's a big opportunity for us," Kronwall said. "But at the same time, we haven't won anything yet. It's still a long way to go. Game 4 is always the toughest win. We know it's going to be a game and we just need to stay focused for 60 minutes and come out with a good push from the start."
The Wings faced a similar situation in the Western Conference Finals against Dallas, a potential clincher on home ice. It didn't happen and the Wings were forced back on the road to play an extra game before advancing. What does that experience teach?
"Now, I've said this a number of times," Babcock said. "Experience doesn't guarantee success. We had this same situation. We had a whole bunch of people here on a Saturday. It was a 1 p.m. game. Everything was going to be great. We were going to clinch the series and feel great. And we walked out of here, I said this, I walked out of here with my son and my wife. My wife told me we were flat, and my son just acted like he had been mortally wounded.
"And we weren't flat. We were just nervous early, and we didn't execute, and in the end, we had to win on the road. We've had to win every series on the road thus far.
"So what do you learn from that?" Babcock continued. "You learn you better have your best stuff and just be prepared to battle hard and play within the structure and the simple game that we play and just look at the guy across from you and try to outwork them, out-compete them."