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Penguins will have to find a way to win in Detroit

| Thursday, June 11, 2009

Once again Joe Louis is standing in the way of a Pittsburgh Kid's attempt to win the ultimate prize.

Penguins captain Sidney Crosby is hoping for a better fate Friday against the Detroit Red Wings in Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final at Joe Louis Arena than former star lightweight boxer Billy Conn received in his epic 1941 showdown with heavyweight champion Joe Louis.

Conn had the fight won but lost late to the veteran champ. His hometown's hockey club has fared no better in the arena named after Louis.

The Penguins are 1-5 at "The Joe" over the past two postseasons. They've failed to score in three contests, including a 5-0 whacking last Saturday in Game 5.

"We've got to stay confident in our game," center Jordan Staal said Wednesday, a day after the Penguins earned another trip to JLA with a 2-1 victory Tuesday at Mellon Arena.

That victory, Staal said, should give the Penguins some confidence in the house of horrors that will welcome them with flying octopi Friday.

The Red Wings are 11-1 at home in the playoffs.

They are 11-2 in Final home games since 1997, with both losses coming in overtime.

Even though the Penguins handed the Red Wings one of those defeats - now-injured winger Petr Sykora's goal in triple-overtime won Game 5 at Detroit in the Final last year - any reason for optimism heading into Friday seems suspect.

Still, the Penguins are optimistic.

"You could tell everyone was comfortable in the room and ready to play," Staal said of his teammates prior to Game 6. "We just feel the same way coming into Game 7."

Certainly some notable Penguins stars are due to crash the good-times party that most Red Wings players have become accustomed to attending after most home Final contests.

Crosby hasn't scored a goal, and he has been held without a point in four games at Joe Louis Arena. Fellow star center Evgeni Malkin has a goal, but his minus-5 rating is almost as alarming as goalie Marc-Andre Fleury's .898 save percentage.

At least Conn was in his fight with Louis. The Penguins have been outscored, 21-6, in his arena over the past two Final series.

"I don't have a good answer for why that is," Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said yesterday, adding that his club must not "pass up opportunities" to put the puck on net.

"Forty-plus shots would be a great recipe to figure out how to get more goals there."

The Penguins' best shot total in six Final games at Detroit is 32 - twice in Games 1 and 2 of this series, and in Game 5 last year.

They've failed to amass 25 shots in any of three other games.

Veteran Red Wings center Kris Draper and his teammates certainly know something about struggling to gain momentum - let alone win - in the building of a championship-caliber opponent. His club failed to win a game in Mellon Arena during this Final, which has set up the Red Wings' first Cup elimination game since 1995.

"You're not intimidated in another team's building," he said. "It's going to be a great atmosphere. You just accept it. You deal with it."

Bad news for the Penguins, though: Road teams rarely deal well with Games 7 in the Final, going 2-12 all-time.

The last road team to a Final Game 7 was the 1971 Montreal Canadiens, who won at Chicago. The Penguins are trying to match that Canadiens club as the only one in NHL history to win the Cup after losing Games 1 and 2 on the road.

After the Penguins' victory Tuesday, Crosby spoke of Game 7 in terms that would have made either Conn or Louis proud.

"It's going to be a game of execution," he said. "It just comes down to execution."

Additional Information:

Motown blues

The Penguins are 1-5 over the past two seasons at Detroit's Joe Louis Arena, where they will play a deciding seventh game of the Stanley Cup Final on Friday. A statistical breakdown of their ineptitude:

Most goals: 4 (Game 5, 2008)

Fewest goals: 0 (Games 1-2, 2008; Game 5, 2009)

Avg. loss margin: 3.2 goals

Avg. shots: 26.5

Power play: 11.1 percent (2-for-18)

Penalty kill: 84.4 percent (27-of-32)

Stars production: C Sidney Crosby (0-2-2, minus-3), C Evgeni Malkin (1-2-3, minus-5), G Marc-Andre Fleury (3.30 GAA, .898 save pct.)


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