History Is on Detroit's Side in Stanley Cup's Game 7

Penguins goaltender Marc-André Fleury will have his work cut out tonight in Game 7 against the defending champion Red Wings.
Penguins goaltender Marc-André Fleury will have his work cut out tonight in Game 7 against the defending champion Red Wings. (By Gene J. Puskar -- Associated Press)
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By Tarik El-Bashir
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, June 12, 2009

DETROIT, June 11 -- Framed photographs commemorating dozens of the Detroit Red Wings' all-time greats, such as Gordie Howe, Ted Lindsay and Steve Yzerman, line the walls inside the home locker room.

On another wall hang one-dimensional replicas of the franchise's Stanley Cups.

All 11 of them.

History surrounds players and coaches here at Joe Louis Arena, and history will favor the Red Wings when they host the Pittsburgh Penguins in Game 7 of the finals, one last game for hockey's most celebrated trophy, the Stanley Cup.

The home team has won 12 of the 14 previous Stanley Cup finals that were decided in a Game 7, and since 1980, no home team in Major League Baseball, the NBA or NHL has lost a decisive game for the championship (18-0).

And in these playoffs, no one has been more dominant on its home ice than Detroit.

Whether it's the quirky end boards, their rabid, octopi-tossing fans or the favorable matchups from getting the last line change, there's something about the venerable Joe that has brought out the best in the Red Wings and the worst in their opponents this spring. They're 11-1 here, including 3-0 against Pittsburgh. They've outscored opponents 43-17, including 11-2 against the Penguins, a disparity punctuated by a 5-0 blowout in Game 5.

"We've been way better at home, way more comfortable, way quicker, way more assertive," Coach Mike Babcock said after presiding over his team's final practice of the season Thursday morning. "This is where we work. This is where we live. It's our fans, our city."

Home ice, though, isn't all the Red Wings have going for them. They also have a distinct edge in experience over Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and the rest of the 20-somethings from Pittsburgh. Four Penguins (Ruslan Fedotenko, Bill Guerin, Chris Kunitz and Petr Sykora) have won a Cup. Meantime, 21 Red Wings own a total of 40 rings, and four of them (Nicklas Lidstrom, Kris Draper, Tomas Holmstrom and Kirk Maltby) will be attempting to win a fifth.

"To be honest, when it gets right down to it, it's experience that counts," goaltender Chris Osgood said. "It's being in those situations. If you're not there, then you don't really know what it's like or how to react until you've done it. We've been to finals and lost, been to playoffs and lost, won Game 7s in overtime. There's nothing we've never been though."

If the Penguins are going to overcome their ice and experience disadvantage, they'll likely need their best players to be just that. In the first six games of the series, the Red Wings have limited Crosby to one goal and two assists, and not a single point in Detroit, where Babcock has been diligent about matching talented two-way forward Henrik Zetterberg and perennial Norris Trophy candidate Lidstrom against the Pittsburgh captain thanks to the last line change.

"At home they've been unflappable a lot of the games and been able to get to their game and play their game," Penguins Coach Dan Bylsma said. Crosby added: "I'd always like to score more. To be honest, now's not the time to think about what could have been goals. The only way I'm looking at it here is it's a great opportunity, and I've got to try to go out there and play my best game of the playoffs."

The other key will be the matchup in goal. Osgood has been mostly steady and occasionally spectacular, as he was in Game 6. But questions about Pittsburgh netminder Marc-André Fleury's ability to come through in the clutch have persisted. Will the Penguins get the focused Fleury, whose save on Daniel Cleary with 1 minute 45 seconds remaining Tuesday was as important as any stop he's made in his career? Or will they get the fragile 24-year-old who was chased from the net after yielding five goals in 21 shots in Game 5, his last time in Detroit?

Friday's game will be Fleury's 49th in the playoffs. His counterpart will be making his 129th, and already owns three rings.

As Osgood answered questions from reporters Thursday morning, he stood beneath framed photos of past Red Wings heroes, his back to the Stanley Cup replicas. When he was asked whether his team had an edge because of their heritage, because they are the Detroit Red Wings, he said, "You get to play with guys like Stevie [Yzerman], Mike Vernon, [Brendan] Shanahan, Mark Howe, [Paul] Coffey, Larry Murphy. It's just kind of like the torch has been passed along."

Finals Notes: Detroit can tie New Jersey's record for most home playoff victories. The Devils won 12 en route to winning the Cup in 2003. . . . Penguins winger Petr Sykora is listed as doubtful.

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