Pittsburgh Penguins Evgeni Malkin (left) and Sidney Crosby joke during practice in Pittsburgh on Monday, June 8, 2009. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn
PITTSBURGH - This is a defining moment for the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Marc-Andre Fleury are now the cornerstones of the franchise and a big piece of this team's history will be written in Game 6 of the Stanley Cup final on Tuesday (8 p.m. ET).
Trailing the Detroit Red Wings 3-2 for the second year in a row, they're trying to avoid watching the visitors parade the championship trophy around Mellon Arena once again. It's going to take a big effort to keep it from happening.
"I like it being a defining moment," Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said Monday. "You know, moments like this define where you're at at that particular time. Everyone in that room should be ready to play their best game and make a difference in the game by playing their part, by doing what we do as a team. And that's the challenge. ...
"We need a defining game."
The last team to lose two straight Stanley Cups was Don Cherry's Boston Bruins in 1977 and 1978. Both of the losses came at the hands of the Montreal Canadiens and were decided at the old Boston Garden.
Seeing the Red Wings have another celebration on their home ice is something the Penguins desperately want to avoid. They feel more prepared this time around to author a different ending.
"We're lucky that we've made it here twice in a row," said Fleury. "All the work it takes in a year to get here, we realize how much it takes. We can't quit now."
He was pulled during a 5-0 loss in Game 5 and will be one of the players looking to be better. The team's two stars are also looking to improve - Crosby was minus-2 with one shot on goal Saturday while Malkin took three minor penalties.
They are the players who will likely determine whether this series goes to a Game 7.
"I've got to be my best just like everyone else has to," said Crosby. "These are the games where we all need to find a way to find that extra level. I'm not any different.
"You don't try to change anything, you just try to make sure you do everything you can to prepare the same way and be your best."
The Red Wings practised at Joe Louis Arena on Monday morning before travelling to Pittsburgh in the afternoon. There was plenty of excitement in the air with the franchise on the verge of its fifth championship over the past 13 years.
Coach Mike Babcock knows exactly what to expect from the Penguins in Game 6: "Desperation."
He can't wait to get things started.
"Can you imagine how much fun it's going to be?" said Babcock "Just think about it. We're on a Game 114 coming up - 114. We played 113 last year. Like, uncle already. These are the ones that are fun. Not the one in February, and certainly not the exhibition games we have to play."
Detroit had its best effort of the series in Game 5 and will be looking to repeat that performance. Babcock indicated that he'll likely leave Pavel Datsyuk on Henrik Zetterberg's wing - a successful unit that also included Daniel Cleary on Saturday night.
Overall, the Red Wings have received more scoring from their secondary players in this series.
The four wingers that play with Crosby and Malkin have combined for just seven points in the five games played so far. Even though Bylsma thinks the team can win without getting more from those guys, the players themselves feel the need to start chipping in.
"We really have to pick up the slack," said Bill Guerin, who plays on Crosby's wing. "We can't put that type of pressure on those two guys. They've done so much for us. You saw it in Games 3 and 4, guys chipping in and getting some scoring done. Depth is a huge thing right now.
"The more you have, the better you are."
The Red Wings franchise has shown itself to be the best in the NHL over the past decade or two while the Penguins seem to be a team on the rise.
This series has been better than the one the teams played in the championship round a year ago.
Pittsburgh is the only city where the Red Wings have lost a Stanley Cup final game on the road during the run of success that started in 1997. They dropped one game last year and both so far in this series.
There is a ton of experience in the Detroit dressing room and those players know the importance of trying to finish things now.
"You get excited because you see the light down the tunnel," said Red Wings goalie Chris Osgood. "It's such a grind and battle for so long sometimes - it seems like it's going to take forever to get there. So when you're finally here, you get excited."
While there isn't much excitement around the Penguins, there does seem to be a steely resolve. They know exactly what is on the line.
"It's pretty obvious," said forward Jordan Staal. "It's two wins, that's it. It's nothing more.
"We're just going to go out and play as hard as we can."