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By Mike Prisuta
Wednesday, June 10, 2009
 

If he was going down, Dan Bylsma was going down swinging.

He'd planned for this, remember. He contemplated long and hard about how he'd handle someday becoming a head coach in the NHL long before he got the call ahead of schedule.

So, the prospect of facing elimination against the mighty Detroit Red Wings on the heels of a 5-0 shellacking wasn't about to unnerve the Penguins' first-year coach.

The poise, preparation and sense of purpose trickled down to Bylsma's players in a remarkable 2-1 victory in Game 6 on Tuesday night at Mellon Arena.

Game 7 is scheduled for Friday night in Detroit.

"The best thing you can tell them is it's about going out and winning the game," said Bylsma, who played in a Game 7 with Anaheim in 2003. "It's not about trying not to lose."

Bylsma, thus, was about a lot more than sending Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin out onto the ice, one after the other or together if necessary, and letting his stars decide the Penguins' fate.

Bylsma's orchestration of Game 6 began before Game 6 did, with the announcement that Petr Sykora would return to active duty following a month in mothballs in place of Miroslav Satan.

Sykora started out on the fourth line but wound up playing with Crosby and with his old linemates, Malkin and Ruslan Fedotenko.

Sykora also played on the second power-play unit with Chris Kunitz and Jordan Staal.

Max Talbot played some with Fedotenko and Malkin as usual, and also with Fedotenko and Kunitz, and with Pascal Dupuis and Craig Adams.

And with the Penguins' clinging to a one-goal lead and just over a minute left, Staal and Adams joined Crosby, a threesome that eventually gave way to Talbot, Adams and Matt Cooke, before Crosby and Staal returned to play the final 13.2 seconds with Talbot.

Bylsma maintained he didn't push any more buttons than he normally does. And the game still came down to a breathtaking save by Marc-Andre Fleury on a Dan Cleary breakaway, and a couple of stops by defenseman Rob Scuderi in the crease on whacks by Johan Franzen.

But the breaks, bounces, non-calls and game-saving plays didn't make Bylsma's proactive stance, leadership and bench management any less critical.

"Some of it's a gut feel," Bylsma said. "Some of it's giving a guy an opportunity."

His running of a game is not unlike the method often relied upon by his predecessor, Michel Therrien, in that regard.

The wheels are always spinning behind Bylsma's glasses, and the seemingly haphazard moves are all a part of a master plan.

"The common theme is 'worry about the task at hand, and that's your shift,' " Penguins assistant coach Tom Fitzgerald said. "Then, you worry about your next shift and your next shift.

"Whether he taps you on the shoulder and you're playing center, left wing or right wing, and you're playing with two different people, just go do your job and play the way we're capable of playing."

That's an approach that has delivered the Penguins from oblivion to the brink of immortality.

"I don't have a ton of experience," Bylsma said, looking ahead to Game 7. "I can tell you that we're going to approach it like we just gave ourselves an opportunity that we didn't have before (Tuesday night).

"That's one game for the Stanley Cup."

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