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Sykora may miss Game 7

by Shawn P. Roarke

"I knew I wasn't going to play much and I didn't. I just wanted to, in any way possible, bring something positive -- back check, soft chip or something good for our team. It came with the blocked shot. To me that felt better than scoring a goal, almost."
-- Petr Sykora on Game 6 of Cup Final

PITTSBURGH -- Pittsburgh's Petr Sykora has lived with hockey regrets for the better part of a decade.

Faced with a chance to possibly set things right, he wasn't going to let that opportunity pass without seizing it. But it looks like his first appearance in the Stanley Cup Final might also be his last.

Inserted into the lineup Tuesday in Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Final to provide offense, Sykora instead made his contribution on the defensive side of the puck as the Penguins staved off elimination with a gritty 2-1 victory.

Now, the Penguins are ready to embrace a winner-take-all Game 7 Friday night (8 p.m. ET, NBC, CBC, RDS) at Joe Louis Arena; ready for the chance to make the pain of last year's loss in Game 6 of the Final -- to these same Wings -- a distant memory. But Sykora may not be able to play due to an injury.

Midway through the second period Tuesday night, Sykora found himself on the ice for a rare shift and he laid himself out to deny a point blast from Detroit's Kris Draper. The slap shot crashed into his ankle, but a prone Sykora was still able to push the puck out of the zone before he pulled himself to his feet and limped off the ice.

But that extra effort could cost him a chance to play in Game 7. Sykora reportedly was seen leaving Mellon Arena on crutches Wednesday, sporting a brace on his right foot and ankle. He confirmed to TSN the injury occurred in the second period of Game 6 after he blocked a shot. When asked if there is any chance he’ll be available for Game 7, Sykora chuckled and said, "I don’t think so."

It's a different kind of pain that Sykora experienced last spring, when he was a member of that team that watched the Red Wings celebrate on the Mellon Arena ice last spring, but his hockey pain goes far deeper than most of his teammates. He also has two previous Game 7 losses in the Final on his resume. Instead of letting those losses beat him down, he found himself champing at the bit when Pittsburgh coach Dan Bylsma told him he was in the lineup for Game 6 -- and he made sure that he made his mark.

"Obviously, Sykora hasn't played much, but he had that real big blocked shot in the second period, which might have seemed like a little thing to a lot of people, but it really got the whole bench going and provided a lot of energy for us," said Pittsburgh defenseman Brooks Orpik, who knows a little something about blocking shots -- he had six in Game 6, more than anyone on either team.

Actually, Sykora hadn't played since Game 2 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals and had been idle more than a month. Needless to say, that's a lot of time to get inside one's own head.

And more often than not, Sykora thought about his greatest disappointments as a professional. He didn't think about the Stanley Cup he won with New Jersey in 2000; but rather the Cups he lost with New Jersey in 2001 and Anaheim in 2003, each with a loss in Game 7. 

"Every time I see the Cup or I see an article on TV or somebody with the Cup, I always think of those two games," Sykora said. "What I could have done better. Now I have the opportunity to participate in Game 7 again and that is what I wanted from tonight's game."

He wanted it and he made it happen, despite playing just six minutes and 31 seconds in Game 6. He had the blocked shot and also registered two hits, facets of the game that aren't normally associated with Sykora's offensive-first game.

"You know, Petr Sykora can get his stick on the puck and shoot it in the net," Bylsma said. "Turns out tonight he can block the shot and get it out as well. That's why Petr played was to get that one chance to shoot the puck, but he added in other ways tonight."

Sykora, who took the roster spot of Miroslav Satan, never got the chance to pull the trigger on his lethal shot in Game 6, despite a lengthy turn on one of Pittsburgh's two power plays, but he could have cared less as he stood in a happy Penguin locker room, watching owner Mario Lemieux making the rounds to congratulate the players on their efforts.

"Everybody was talking about my shot, but I went into the game with a different mindset," Sykora said after Game 6. "I kind of watched what role Miro had and I wanted to fill in that role. I wanted to make sure I did things right.

"I knew I wasn't going to play much and I didn't. I just wanted to, in any way possible, bring something positive -- back check, soft chip or something good for our team. It came with the blocked shot. To me that felt better than scoring a goal, almost." 

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