x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Odds are stacked against Pittsburgh

The away team has won Game Seven just twice in the previous 14 Stanley Cup finals that have gone the distance.

The Pittsburgh Penguins' goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury needs to produce the same heroics from Game Six if his side are to lift the Stanley Cup.
The Pittsburgh Penguins' goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury needs to produce the same heroics from Game Six if his side are to lift the Stanley Cup.

The good news for the Pittsburgh Penguins is they managed to force a winner-take-all game against the Detroit Red Wings for the right to hoist the Stanley Cup. The bad news is, history is not on their side tonight. Not one bit. There have been 14 previous Game Sevens in the Stanley Cup final.

The away team, which the Penguins will be when they skate into Joe Louis Arena for the match with the Detroit Red Wings tonight, have won just two of those 14 games. The last time was Ken Dryden's Montreal Canadiens, over Chicago, in 1971. Since then, away teams have lost six consecutive Stanley Cup Game Sevens. Combine that with the fact the Wings have won 11 and lost one on home ice in the 2009 play-offs - and that Pittsburgh have scored just two goals, in total, in three games at Detroit - and Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and the rest of the Pens have their work cut out for them.

The Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said that before Game Six back on Feb 15, when Pittsburgh were 10th in the Eastern Conference, five points off of a play-off berth, few people would have given them much chance of going into Game Six against Detroit in the finals. "That's an opportunity we gladly took and we've given ourselves an opportunity to do it," he said. That's great coach-speak, the kind of motivational stuff that takes players' minds off of the mountain in front of them.

Never mind that is it not particularly relevant - of course the floundering Pens would have gladly accepted a cup final Game Six back in February; they weren't even in a play-off spot at the time. It doesn't have to make sense; like Chris Osgood in the Wings net, it just has to work. If it makes the Penguins players believe they can defeat Detroit and reverse hockey history, Bylsma's words are worth their weight in gold. Or at least Stanley-grade silver.

"It's an unbelievable opportunity," said Crosby, the captain. "We found a way to survive?And now it's anyone's game. It's going to be a great challenge. "They play great at home, but we've got to battle and find a way to pull it off." Good strategy, Sid. It worked in Game Six, when Pittsburgh threw everything it had at Detroit, breaking through just enough to squeeze out a 2-1 victory. Put simply, Pittsburgh need to approach perfection to beat the Wings in Detroit.

Marc-Andre Fleury, the goaltender, needs to continue his Game Six heroics. Crosby needs to shake off two-way Wings star Henrik Zetterberg and break out. Malkin needs one more big game, one more oversized effort. Jordan Staal needs to shut down Pavel Datsyuk. A Penguins winger - Ruslan Fedotenko, Bill Guerin, Chris Kunitz, Tyler Kennedy, Maxime Talbot, Pascal Dupuis, it doesn't matter who - needs to score.

Brooks Orpik needs to clear out Tomas Holmstrom and Johan Franzen. And Rob Scuderi just needs to do what he did in Game Six - block three sure goals in the final minutes of the game. If all of that happens, the Penguins will make history tonight. If it doesn't, the Detroit dynasty will continue. "Playing in a Game Seven for the Stanley Cup is new to all of us," said the Detroit veteran Kris Draper.

"We've played in some big games, no doubt. But, you know, we've never been in a situation like this in a Game Seven, where so much is on the line. And [we're] excited about it." smccaig@thenational.ae