By Darren Eliot
June 02, 2008

The Pittsburgh Penguins will be battling on several fronts as the Stanley Cup Final enters Game 5 in Detroit.

They have to again contend with relentless Red Wings who have limited the Penguins' shot totals to just a notch over 20 per game. The Stanley Cup will be on the premises, serving as a reminder of how close the Red Wings are to simultaneously fulfilling their dream and ending the Penguins' hopes. The raucous fans in Detroit will also be part of the mix, cheering deliriously in anticipation of the handshake moment and the hoisting of the Cup on home ice.

Maybe more than anything, though, the Penguins will need to overcome their own doubts due to the untimely change in their hockey karma. Their loss in Game 4 was their first of the playoffs on home ice -- part of a run that extended 19 games -- and goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury's first L in Pittsburgh since Thanksgiving. When they absolutely had to, the Penguins prevailed in Game 3 after the series had switched cities, but their renewed confidence in the wake of that victory evaporated when they lost at Mellon Arena three nights later.

Now the Penguins enter a situation in which they've already had to reflect on what might have been. They scored first in Game 4 -- on the power play, where their production had been skinny. They limited the Red Wings' quality scoring chances, even though Detroit outshot them substantially at even strength. Pittsburgh had chances to tack on more goals, but Chris Osgood stymied them with timely saves. Most telling -- and certainly the hardest part to forget -- is that three miscues in succession led to Detroit's game-winning goal.

Obviously, a string of events like that -- a defensive zone turnover, a hesitation in coverage, and a miss by goaltender Fleury on a stoppable shot -- at crunch time won't win championships. It's a litany that's difficult for the Penguins to forget because they know they played well and still the Red Wings found a way to steal a victory. That wasn't supposed to happen. Not in Pittsburgh.

That brings us back to the moment: the Red Wings with a chance to celebrate on their home ice -- where they've lost but once during this current springtime run -- and the Penguins trying to stave off the anguish of a penultimate post-script. Surely this group of hotshot youngsters can get beyond their recent past and focus on the task at hand. They're pro athletes, for crying out loud, who are able to compartmentalize and move on to some degree, especially once the action gets underway

Beyond the Xs and Os of tonight's tilt and the reflexive debate over how much ice-time Sidney Crosby should receive, the Penguins' collective mindset, despite what anyone in their dressing room refuses to admit, took a big blow on Saturday night.

Sometimes, deep down in your being, you sense that it is easier to perform when you've been kicked in the keister than when your karma has crumbled. And Detroit is a difficult place to park your karma when the home team is on the verge of hoisting the silverware.

Darren Eliot is TV analyst and Hockey Development Liaison for the Atlanta Thrashers. He also appears on Versus playoff broadcasts and Westwood One radio.

You May Like