It all comes down to this.
One more game with the richest prize in hockey on the line.
These players have probably gone over this very moment in their heads hundreds of times.
In backyard rinks and street hockey games around the world, children have envisioned playing in game seven of the Stanley Cup Final for years. They dream of the one goal, the one save, the one hit that makes the difference between glory and agony. Many of the players who will suit up for action on Friday night have probably had these same dreams.
In the National Hockey League there is nothing bigger than game seven with the Cup on the line. In one night the hopes of one city will be reached while the nightmares of another will begin. In this game there will be a guaranteed loser and a guaranteed winner. One team will hold the Stanley Cup over their heads while the other will hang their heads in disappointment. That is the magic of game seven in the Stanley Cup Final.
It has only happened 14 previous times in history. In those games the home team is 12-2. During these playoffs the Red Wings are 11-1 at home. They are 3-0 in this series.
Add in the fact that the Penguins have played pretty miserable hockey in Joe Louis Arena this postseason, and that the home team has won every game in this series, and it becomes obvious that home ice advantage will be a huge factor in this game.
With home ice, Mike Babcock can get the matches he wants. He can play Henrik Zetterberg against Sidney Crosby as often as he feels like it. He can make sure Niklas Lidstrom is on the ice against Evgeni Malkin. The Red Wings can put their sticks down second on faceoffs. The boards at Joe Louis Arena will bounce in a manner that will be familiar to anyone wearing a winged wheel, but possibly surprising to anyone that dons a skating penguin. All of these reasons add up to a potential Detroit victory in game seven.
But, if we have learned anything from this series, it is to expect the unexpected.
After the Detroit Red Wings won the first two games of the series, it looked like they were on their way to easily earning another Stanley Cup.
Then the Pittsburgh Penguins won two straight and it appeared that the momentum had shifted. People started saying that Jordan Staal’s shorthanded goal in game four was the turning point of the series. They started speculating that the Detroit Red Wings were tired and that the Penguins were now primed to finish off their wounded opponents.
And then the Detroit Red Wings scored five goals, shut out the Penguins and regained the series lead. Suddenly the momentum was back in their court. They dominated Pittsburgh in game five. The Penguins responded with a complete lack of discipline and found themselves deeply entrenched in penalty trouble. The storyline shifted to the composed masters in Detroit defeating the immature punks in Pittsburgh.
But the Pittsburgh Penguins surprised everyone by rebounding from Saturday night’s debacle with a strong effort in game six. They played a great game of hockey and forced a seventh game.
So what will happen now? Will momentum switch once again with a change in venue? Or will the unexpected occur once again?
Will the Penguins, with their young core that is barely old enough to drink, be victorious or will the Red Wings, the most successful NHL franchise in the last 20 years, once again claim the Cup?
Outside of the game five blowout, each game in this series has been close. These two teams have fought all the way down to the wire and have been competitive the entire time. Hopefully game seven will bring more of the same.
Original Image: “Lord Stanley’s Mug” by scazon on Flickr