Since the start of the Stanley Cup finals, I have talked and communicated with at least 50 people who consider themselves die-hard Pittsburgh Penguins fans. Most felt the Penguins would be able to defeat the Red Wings in a long series and sensed a new attitude from the Penguins this time around.
Talking to many of those fans Monday night, with Pittsburgh down 0-2 to Detroit, they have no explanation why their team has failed to win a game. When I mentioned that the Penguins are now at home for two games, most felt the Penguins would not be able to win both home games and many sounded this series would be over in five games.
Now, as a long-time hockey fan, I know better. I know two home victories by the Penguins are possible and I may even go as far to say probable, and then we have a real series on our hands.
The home crowd tonight should be a huge advantage for the Penguins and I feel the key is for the Penguins to get out of the gate fast and establish a two-goal lead. Yes, I know that is harder to do than just saying it, but if the Penguins get an early goal lead, they need to retain an offensive mindset and continue to get to the Wings net. The more time they spend in the Wings defensive zone the harder it becomes for Detroit to score.
Now, if the Wings get the lead the Penguins need to keep their cool and become even more aggressive to force the Wings into mistakes and turnovers. By doing so, the Penguins could be playing on the edge since the winged-wheelers know how to take advantage of aggressive play and the Penguins could find themselves with a two-goal deficit, again.
So as you can see, it is imperative the Penguins get a lead and build on that lead. By doing so, they are forcing the Wings to chase them instead of being the team that is doing the chasing. It also allows Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin to be more creative and allows them to play their game, on their terms.
Now let's get back to the Pittsburgh fans. Remember, your team is not out of this series, but as we all know, tonight's game is the key game. Don't fret the calls that go against your team, don't sweat the small stuff and stay behind your team throughout the night. History tells us the home team wins Game 3, but in order to do so, the Penguins must finish their plays in the offensive zone. Getting to the net against Detroit is not good enough, the puck needs to get to the back of the net and we will know soon enough if the Penguins and their fans are able to make the Stanley Cup Final a series again.
May the best team win tonight (they usually do) and enjoy the game. It will be the most intense one of this series and the action will be fast and furious. Hold on to your hats, the fun is just starting.
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Author: Paul Kukla | NHL.com Correspondent