Penguins erase recent memory, look to Game 7
The Game 5 meltdown and the missed opportunities in Game 6 don't matter. Neither does Martin St. Louis' previous brilliance, the power play's descent to ineptitude or Chris Conner's botched penalty shot.
That's the beauty of a Game 7.
A series with no rhythm and little predictability will produce a defining moment tonight when the Penguins and Tampa Bay Lightning clash at 8 p.m. at Consol Energy Center.
"It's not just another game, and you're aware of that going in," Penguins defenseman Ben Lovejoy said. "We haven't played our best. But the great thing is that we have one more chance."
If the Penguins win this game, the season will be considered an undeniable success. Producing 106 points and winning a playoff series without Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin would represent magnificent achievements. Plus, a victory would extend the season for suspended left wing Matt Cooke and allot more time for the possibility of a dramatic Crosby return.
Losing another Game 7 on home ice — and blowing a 3-1 series lead for only the second time in franchise history — will leave a black eye on what has been a feel-good season.
"We are all very aware of how big this is," defenseman Matt Niskanen said.
That the Penguins are 2-5 all-time in Game 7s at home has the city nervous, but the team prefers to ignore history and disregard last season's loss to Montreal in the decisive game of the conference semifinals.
"None of us are even thinking about what happens if we lose," said defenseman Paul Martin, whose only career Game 7 ended in disaster when Carolina scored twice in the final minute to eliminate his New Jersey Devils two years ago.
"None of that stuff is in our heads. We just have to go out and do positive things. The outcome will take care of itself."
Players such as David Volek, Tom Fitzgerald and Chico Resch have wrecked Penguins seasons in previous years, becoming immediate villains.
Max Talbot, of course, should represent some optimism. He has scored two goals in a game only four times in 453 career games. One of those was Game 7 in Detroit two years ago, an evening that cemented Talbot's legacy as a big-game player. Reputations are made in Game 7.
Talbot sounds confident about tonight's outcome.
"We have to be composed," he said. "If we play our way, I like our chances."
If it's any consolation, the Penguins are 2-0 in first-round Game 7s at home. Also, the Penguins have been forced to win at least one Game 7 in all three of their Stanley Cup seasons.
These Penguins, though, aren't real concerned about history.
Many players have stated that lessons can be learned from last year's loss to Montreal, but they ultimately choose to focus on tonight.
This is the game in the series that history will remember. The unattractive history of Game 7 losses at home can be largely abolished with a victory.
"We're very capable of winning," Martin said.
"Everybody misses him. Our team misses him. Our coach misses him. Our organization misses him. He's the best player in the world. Everybody needs him."
Penguins defenseman, on captain Sidney Crosby's absence
"The fans are going to be huge for us. It's a great crowd here. That's a factor. The last change is something the coach appreciates. They have to come into our barn and beat us a third time. We have to stand our ground. We'll be ready."
Penguins defenseman, on playing Game 7 at home
"No. New year. It's something different. We have different guys in this dressing room. We can learn from it. But we're a totally different team. We'll be ready."
Penguins center, on whether the team will be thinking about last season's loss in Game 7 to Montreal