PITTSBURGH -- It takes less than an hour to fly from Detroit to Pittsburgh. Early Sunday morning, however, it seemed to take forever for the Pittsburgh Penguins.
The Penguins trudged onto their plane lugging the heavy baggage associated with a lopsided loss -- in this case a 5-0 stinker in Saturday night's Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Final -- with them for the trip home to a much-needed two days of rest and rehabilitation.
Needless to say, it was not a fun journey.
"The use of the English language isn't very good in situations like that," Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said Sunday morning. "Was it tough? It was disappointing. Did I think about ways to try to get us refocused on playing our game sooner than we did? Yes."
But the Pens could not get refocused Saturday night, allowing a taut 1-0 game after the first period to turn into a rout that puts their season in peril. Lose in Tuesday's Game 6 (8 p.m. ET, NBC, CBC, RDS) and the Penguins will fall just short of claiming the Stanley Cup for the second-straight June.
Clearly, the Pens know they have to find some answers before Tuesday's first puck drops at Mellon Arena to avoid that painful fate.
The process of rebounding began during that interminable flight right after Game 5. It will continue during Monday's practice. The Penguins were given Sunday off, told to stay away from the rink. It is an off day, Bylsma says, that was built into the schedule before Pittsburgh lost Game 5 in such an unfavorable fashion.
Forward Bill Guerin, 38, has been around the playoff block a few times. He won a Stanley Cup in 1995 as a young player with the New Jersey Devils. He has waited 14 long years for the opportunity to again be on one of the final two teams standing in the playoffs and he is not going to let this chance -- perhaps the last of his career -- go by without a fight.
"The opportunity is now for a 38-year-old, and it's now for a 22-year-old, and for a 28-year-old," Guerin said Sunday morning. "The opportunity is now. You have to take it when you've got the opportunity because, you know, it could be 14 years before you get your next one."
So, Guerin made the rounds in the wake of Saturday night's game, offering words of encouragement to some players, tapping others on the back without any words, leaving still others to their own thoughts -- playing the role of amateur psychologist that falls to most veteran players.
"As a veteran you just try to keep guys together, make sure guys are OK and their heads are right," he said. "I know we do have a young team, but we have guys that are experienced and guys that are kind of made for this type of thing."
Bylsma also likes the fabric of his team, one that made a stirring comeback from an 0-2 series deficit against Washington in the second round, a rally culminated with a Game 7 rout on the road. Because of that, he knows he has the raw materials necessary to win the next two games.
Bylsma believes goalie Marc-Andre Fleury
will bounce back from his horrendous Saturday night, a night that ended prematurely with him skating to the bench as he was serenaded by catcalls from a delirious Joe Louis crowd. He believes Evgeni Malkin
will shed the frustration that caused him to take a pair of ill-advised penalties and that Sidney Crosby
will forget his anger that translated into a slash to Henrik Zetterberg's knee.
Bylsma believes these things because he can't even face the alternative: that the Penguins have given it their best shot, yet will lose one of the next two games and allow the Red Wings to claim the Stanley Cup at Pittsburgh's expense for the second-straight spring.
As a player with Anaheim, Bylsma watched the New Jersey Devils celebrate their 2003 Cup triumph after a Game 7 victory against his Ducks. Six years later, that missed opportunity still haunts him.
The Penguin players, meanwhile, watched Detroit celebrate on the Mellon Arena ice last year after its Game 6 victory. It is a mental picture that has not faded with time.
None of them want to live through that pain again.
"I can remember vividly -- too vividly -- what it's like to have the clock ticking down; then to have the pomp and circumstance afterwards," Bylsma said. "So, I do know what that is like personally. But that's playoff hockey.
"You're faced with elimination games. How you deal with them and the focus you can have on playing your game largely dictates how those games unfold. Some teams rise to the occasion; some teams relish that pressure and come out with big performances. But they are tough situations to be in, and we're faced with one in Game 6."
Author: Shawn P. Roarke | NHL.com Managing Editor