If the Pittsburgh Penguins want their Stanley Cup dream to remain a reality, Marc-Andre Fleury better be prepared to parry the flurry the Detroit Red Wings will throw at him in Game 6 of the finals at Pittsburgh’s Mellon Arena (8 p.m. ET on NBC).
Behind 3-2 to the Wings following a stunningly-lopsided 5-0 setback Saturday in Game 5 at Joe Louis Arena, it all comes down to this:
Fleury must be huge. He must be virtually impenetrable. Otherwise, for the second straight spring, the Penguins get to watch Detroit players parade the Stanley Cup around their house.
Game 5 ended with Fleury banished, chased to the bench by five Detroit goals in 35 minutes.
“They won,” Fleury said. “They did a good job ... we got frustrated.”
The Penguins didn’t just lose Game 5.
They lost their minds.
“They put a string together like we did last game, and they took away a lot of momentum,” Penguins captain Sidney Crosby said.
A string that may prove to be the noose around Pittsburgh’s neck.
Those tired, geriatric, ancient Red Wings absolutely hammered the Penguins in every category except classlessness and stupidity.
The Wings can defend their title with a victory Tuesday.
Whether the Penguins can regain their honor is an entirely different matter.
“I think we've been through a lot of things that ...” Crosby said, pausing in mid-sentence. “You know, we haven't had a big loss like this.”
A loss on the scoreboard. A loss of discipline. A loss of composure.
The television cameras caught NHL commissioner Gary Bettman in his seat during the second period as the Wings poured it on.
Bettman’s expression said it all. Watching the team he’s tied his league’s future to go up in flames, he looked a guy who was suffering from kidney stones.
Positioned to put the Wings on the ropes, the Penguins looked like they were not ready for prime time players.
Their out-of-control performance in such a pivotal game was shocking.
“We should have done a better job maybe of keeping our composure,” Pittsburgh center Maxime Talbot said.
There was the steady, ongoing march of the Penguins to the penalty box, leading to three Detroit power-play goals in the second period. There was center Evgeni Malkin firing off a hat trick of fouls — three minor penalties. There was Crosby slashing the back of Detroit’s Henrik Zetterberg’s leg for no reason at all. There was Talbot hacking his stick across the back of Wings center Pavel Datsyuk’s feet — including the injured one that kept him out for seven games — for no reason other than to hopefully re-injure Datsyuk.
Talbot is half right. Datsyuk’s foot was there, but the puck wasn’t in the vicinity.
For the Penguins, who looked so right in winning twice on home ice to knot the series, everything went dramatically wrong.
Now they come home, as they did a year ago, their lives on the line, their championship season on the brink of coming up short again.
In games like this, all the pressure falls on one guy.
The fellow between the pipes.
To a man, the Pittsburgh players express the utmost confidence in their netminder.
“He’s going to bounce back,” defenseman Kris Letang said. “He’s a good goalie. He has a lot of competitor in him and that’s good. We know that he’s going to be back and he’s going to be good.
Six years ago, the Penguins spent the very first pick of the NHL draft on Fleury. They passed up future Carolina Hurricanes star Eric Staal to get him.
They saw him as a franchise netminder, a guy who’d be at his best in the biggest games.
Four seasons into his NHL career, the fact of the matter is he hasn’t delivered the goods.
Oh, the Pens are in the finals for the second year in a row, but analyze Fleury’s final answers over those two years and you’ve got to question him.
His first act on hockey’s biggest stage last spring was to trip coming through the gate and do a face plant on the ice surface.
“I know how big the gate is here now,” he joked before this series started.
PHT: Logan Couture shook off an injury earlier in the game to score an overtime goal that gave San Jose a win in Game 3 and trimmed Los Angeles' series lead to 2-1.
PHT: Detroit scored four unanswered goals to top Chicago 4-1 on Saturday. The Western semifinals are now level at one game apiece. Game 3 is on Monday at 7:30 p.m. ET.
Game 5 highlights: Red Wings roll
June 6: Watch the best goals and hits from Detroit's 5-0 thrashing of Pittsburgh.
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