The Penguins fought hard to make sure there was a game seven. It is the NHL's dream come true, and the Penguins served it up on a silver platter. So... what are the chances that Pittsburgh can now add the Silver Cup to that platter?
Maybe better than you think... Remember the Panthers?
In the '95 Season, the Penguins still had plenty of players who had their named etched on the Stanley Cup. Mario Lemieux was the NHL scoring leader that year, and he had a kid on his wing named Jaromir Jagr. They finished with a 49-29-4 record, and held home ice advantage throughout the playoffs.
They came out on top in their annual match-up with the Capitals, and took care of New York in 5 games. Next up were the upstart Florida Panthers. (Who knew they could even get water to freeze in Miami? Go figure...) The Panthers were the cinderella story of the league that year. In their third season in the league, they found themselves in the Eastern Division Finals, playing against the power-house Pittsburgh Penguins. No one gave them a chance.
The Panthers had a stupid playoff gimmick that year. It was started when a rat scurried across the locker room, and Scott Mellanby "one timed" it into a wall killing it. He scored two goals that night (so the story goes) and the rest is NHL history -- or infamy, depending on your point of view. The story made it into the paper, and after a goal the next night, some enterprising fan threw a toy mouse on the ice. The idea caught on, and before the playoffs were finished, the fans would throw hundreds of rats on the ice after every goal. (The arena would sell them to the fans on the way in, sweep them up after the goals, and re-sell them the next game...) Eventually, this would prompt the NHL to outlaw throwing anything on the ice, excepts hats following a hat trick. (Theoretically, the octopus is now outlawed, too...)
Better than their gimmick, though, they had John Vanbiesbrouck in goal.
It didn't start well for the Panthers. The two teams split the first four games. But in game five, the veteren team asserted itself. They beat the Panthers at home in a convincing 3-0 drubbing that was not as close as the score indicated. A columnist of the Pittsburgh Post Gazette (remember that paper?) commented that the Panthers were so inept at scoring that they couldn't push a BB into the grand canyon, let alone, getting a goal past Tom Barraso.
Sometimes, columnists shoudl keep their mouths shut. The Panthers surprised everyone, forcing a game seven by winning at home (overcoming a 2-1 deficit to end up winning 4-3).
But there was no way the upstart Panthers were going to defeat the veteren, high powered Pittsburgh Penguins... was there?
Actually... yeah. Tom Barasso, who had looked unbeatable (in game 3, he faced 61 shots!) gave up a slapshot from 58 feet away. That gave the Panthers a 2-1 lead, and was like a dagger into the hearts of Penguin players and fans alike. No one could believe it. A goal... from 58 feet away? The Panthers ended up winning 3-1.
It should be noted that one of the reasons the Penguins were so beatable was that Ron Francis -- probably the most unsung offensive player on the team -- broke his foot in the finals against New York, and could not play in the Finals.
But... As the cliche goes... anything can happen in a Game 7.
I'm no prognosticator... I thought the Penguins would win in 6 (The Red Wings had much more in the tank than I suspected... although the Penguins could have easily gotten a split in Detroit with the way those 2 games went... and then who knows?)
But I suspect that Fleury will have a great game in the Joe this time out. He has a great penchant for amnesia when it counts. Unless Crosby is secretly hurt (how else can you explain Max Talbot getting more ice time than Sid last time out?) I think he will rise to the occassion. Evgeni is due for a big game... all of these things bode well for a Penguins victory... but all of them will be necessary to neutralize the crowd.
One thing is for certain: The Red WIngs will not quit. They showed that in the third period of game six. This is a team that will not quit.
It will take 60 minutes of hockey to finish them off.