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Junker: Fleury, Pens can rebound

| Monday, June 8, 2009

Penguin fans were deliriously happy when their team beat the Washington Capitals by a laughably easy 6-2 score in their deciding Game 7 earlier in the playoffs.

Everyone wondered why they had built up so much angst for nothing.

Ditto for Red Wings fans.

After their beloved defending champs were summarily dismissed by the Penguins on Mellon Arena ice in Game 4 of the Stanley Cup Final, some cracks in the confidence appeared among even those with the most red face paint. Fear of age, fatigue and injuries created doubt.

So, you know how Detroit Red Wings fans feel about their laughably easy 5-0 win over the Pengiuins in Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Final on Saturday night.

"Why were we worried?"

But the Penguins still have something Washington did not and that's another game to play. Two if they bounce back Tuesday night.

No professional team that has made it this far in a championship series is going to hide it's tail and go home after a dismal performance.

The second period for the Penguins on Saturday night was no worse than the second period for the Red Wings on Thursday night. Well, maybe a little. The Wings never replaced Chris Osgood in net. And if there is one player you might have a little of that angst about now, it's Penguin goalie Marc-Andre Fleury. He was replaced and that's always embarrassing.

Most goalies have not only thick, but very elastic skin. They have to, or playing the position would send them to the asylum. Fleury has a good personality and the ability to smile through adversity. But this may be his toughest hour, at least since allowing a fluky goal to the U.S. late in the championship game that cost Canada the World Junior Championship in 2004.

It's never easy being replaced in the middle of a game, but especially when it's a Stanley Cup Final game, and just when it appeared that his team was ready to take over the series.

This is also not to suggest that Fluery is solely to blame for the Pens' pitiful performance Saturday night. They were awful from A to Z. But if you have to make a thousand mistakes in a long series, you might as well make 999 of them in one game.

Many times, it's much easier to rebound from a meltdown like that, than it would have been if they had lost a hard-fought overtime game.

From everything this team has shown since Dan Bylsma became coach, you would have to expect them to play well Tuesday night with their season on life support.

Fleury can draw from the fact that he played his best game of the series last year, the first time the Penguins faced elimination. With the Cup in the building, the Wings will smell the blood in the water. But, many have felt that this was going to go seven and few would be surprised — despite Saturday — if it still did.

And then there's the Penguins real problem.

If they can survive Tuesday, how can they win a game at Joe Louis Arena?

The Red Wings dominate in their building. They are 11-1 in the playoffs there this year. The Penguins have faced them six times in the Final there the last two years, and goaltender Chris Osgood has shut them out in half of those games and held them to just one goal in two others. The only game the Penguins scored more than once was in triple overtime.

So, while the Penguins must regroup and be prepared for Game 6, the real impossible mountain to climb appears to be Game 7. Forget goofy bounces and the octopus and flame-shooting scoreboards. Especially forget Fleury's performance in Game 5, because there hasn't been a goalie invented yet that can win a game when his team can't score.

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