Detroit Red Wings head coach Mike Babcock talks to the team during practice at Joe Louis Arena in Detroit, Sunday, June 1, 2008. THE ASSOCIATED PRESS/Paul Sancya
DETROIT - The freak show is over and the Detroit Red Wings are concentrating on winning the Stanley Cup now.
They can hoist the NHL's biggest prize by defeating the Pittsburgh Penguins in Game 5 of the championship series Monday night.
"We know they're going to come out and be a desperate team," Red Wings captain Nick Lidstrom said after working out in the team's gym after an optional practice Sunday. "Our battle level has to be as high as it was (in a 2-1 win Saturday).
"They're going to come out with their best effort so that's something we'll have to match."
Lidstrom can earn a fourth Stanley Cup ring with the Red Wings and, in the process, become the first European born and bred player to be captain of an NHL champion.
Detroit has scoring balance, has dodged most injury bullets and has received outstanding goaltending from Chris Osgood. It's a combination of factors that is hard to beat.
"We've got all of that, and it helps having a veteran group that's been there before and knows what it has to do," said Lidstrom.
Not that it's been easy.
"It's been hard," said Lidstrom. "Even though we won the first two games here 4-0 and 3-0, all the games have been tough for us.
"Pittsburgh has got better and better each game, too, so that's why we have to respond as a team and come out with a great effort again."
Further entrenching in their minds that the time to win is now is the recollection that they were up 3-1 on Dallas in the Western Conference final and lost Game 5 at home. They hated going back to Dallas to finish off that series, and they hate the thought of having to return to Pittsburgh should the Penguins prevail Monday.
"That's a good reminder that we can't take anything for granted," Lidstrom said of the Dallas debacle.
The Wings came out too slow in Game 5 against the Stars, said Tomas Holmstrom.
"We didn't have any desperation," he said. "So, for sure, we're going to play as hard as we can (Monday), forecheck them and get pucks to the net - just come out and play hard."
Holmstrom sat out Game 4 with a strained hamstring but he intends to be in the lineup for Game 5.
"It's for sure," he said.
He and his teammates were scrambling for tickets for family members and friends on Sunday. Being at Joe Louis Arena on an off day was a welcome respite from the beehives of activity on the home front.
"There's lots of people who want to come in and see you play and stuff like that," said Holmstrom. "You have to take care of tickets and hotel stuff.
"Friends are calling. Everybody is calling. It's a freak show. We had to get that all out of the way so we can focus on the game."
Chris Chelios hasn't appeared in the series thus far and coach Mike Babcock says he doesn't expect to make a lineup change so the 46-year-old defenceman can be on the ice if the Stanley Cup is presented. He seems to have accepted the inevitable.
"Hopefully they won't need me and we can finish this off," said Chelios.
Chelios was asked if he'd be giving any advice to younger teammates before this crucial game.
"No," he replied. "We've got this far and everybody seems to have handled the adversity we've faced.
"There's enough leadership in this room. Nothing has to be said now. You can look in each guy's eyes and understand what's at stake. Hopefully, we'll play our best game (Monday)."
Meanwhile, the Penguins have to keep believing, have to keep telling themselves that they are the best team in the world despite the long odds they now face to win the title. They've come too far to abandon hope now
"We know what we have to do," said captain Sidney Crosby. "We've got to win to stay alive.
"It's pretty clear and simple. So that's the way we're looking at it. All we focus on is winning this game."
The time to be nervous has passed, he said.
"We'll leave it all out there and see what happens," Crosby said. "We have to make sure we empty the tank and play desperate and see where it takes us.
"I really believe that, if we play our game, we've got a great chance to win."
One win - that's all it takes and, presto, the series could go seven.
"You can't look at it as winning the next three," said Crosby. "You have to look at it as winning one.
"That's our goal: to get back to Pittsburgh. We've been in these scenarios before at different times in our careers and you just have to make sure you dig deep and find a way."