Facing elimination ups ante for Penguins
Whether Game 5 ended in a blowout or in overtime, Game 6 was destined to loom as potentially decisive in the Stanley Cup Final.
And so it shall be on Tuesday night at Mellon Arena.
The Red Wings can claim the Cup after snapping a 2-2 series tie with a 5-0 blasting of the Penguins in Game 5 on Saturday night at Joe Louis Arena.
The Penguins will be desperate to stave off elimination, something they were unable to do in a Game 6 at home against Detroit a year ago.
A day after the Red Wings positioned themselves to within one win of back-to-back championships, both sides reflected upon how close they've come to realizing their ultimate goal, and upon the special nature of the opportunity both still enjoy.
For veterans such as 38-year-old Penguins winger Bill Guerin, a Stanley Cup champion with the New Jersey Devils in 1995, this might be his final opportunity.
"I know where I'm at in my career," Guerin said Sunday. "The opportunity is now for a 38-year-old, and it's now for a 22-year-old and for a 28-year-old. The opportunity is now, and you have to take it when you've got the opportunity because it could be 14 years before you get your next one."
It hasn't even been 14 months for 38-year-old Detroit center Kris Draper, who won his fourth Stanley Cup ring when the Red Wings beat the Penguins, 3-2, on June 4, 2008 at Mellon Arena.
But Draper's thirst for more is unquenchable.
"All we want to do is get your name on that Stanley Cup," he said. "You can never have it on enough."
Draper also knows what it's like to come this far only to be denied, having been on the wrong end of Guerin and the Devils sweeping the Red Wings in '95.
The pain of watching another team celebrate has been too much to endure ever since.
"When we're not in the Stanley Cup Final, I never watch the end," Draper said. "I watch the hockey, and as soon as I realize what's going to happen, I turn the TV off or change the channel."
Penguins head coach Dan Bylsma can relate.
Bylsma wore skates rather than a suit to the 2003 Final, which ended with the Devils beating Bylsma and the Anaheim Mighty Ducks, coached at the time by current Red Wings head coach Mike Babcock, in seven games.
"I remember vividly, too vividly, what it's like to have the clock ticking down," Bylsma said.
Babcock does, too.
"Not winning is absolutely devastating," he said. "In a (salary) cap world you don't know if you're ever going to get a chance to be here, period. The teams are so close now, your opportunities, I think, are so few and far between that you'd like to make good on the ones you get."
For at least one of the Red Wings, the chance to win another Cup has injected a heightened sense of anticipation leading into Game 6.
"We're looking forward to it," winger Pavel Datsyuk said. "It's a huge game, especially in Pittsburgh's building."
Wings winger Daniel Cleary cautioned against expecting anything less than a determined effort from the Penguins.
"When you close out a team, it's not easy," he said. "You're taking away somebody's dreams."
Bylsma wasn't in Mellon Arena when the Red Wings crushed the Penguins' Stanley Cup dreams a year ago.
He's counting upon Penguins who were and were not present then to respond to Saturday night's blowout with equal doses of resolve.
"We got behind the eight ball against a good team in a tough building, and the score ends up being a tough one to take," Bylsma said. "But we are going to regroup.
"We are going to be ready to play Game 6 and we are going to lay it on the line."