DETROIT – The Cup is in the house. Now it's up to the Detroit Red Wings to take it home.
The 2007-08 NHL season could end Monday night if Detroit beats the visiting Pittsburgh Penguins in Game 5 of the best-of-seven finale. If that happens, the Stanley Cup will rest in Detroit for the 11th time during the 86 years it has been awarded by the league.
"You get to the finals in Game 1 and the feeling of excitement is there," Detroit's Kirk Maltby said following Monday's morning skate. "But when you get this close you've got to make sure those nerves and jitters don't get to you and just make sure you go out there playing the way you're used to playing."
Maltby is among the select group of five skaters trying to win their fourth Stanley Cup in nine seasons as members of the Red Wings. The others include Kris Draper, Darren McCarty, Tomas Holmstrom and Nicklas Lidstrom, who is also on the cusp of being the first European captain to win the Cup.
"We hope that if there is any truth to the word experience and being in this situation before, hopefully it does allow us to go out, stay calm and play our best hockey," Maltby said. "But, at the same time, we realize what we did wrong in Game 5 of the last series against Dallas. All in all we hope it's a lesson learned."
The Red Wings held a 3-1 series lead against the Stars in the last round just as they enjoy against the Penguins now. Anticipating a clincher at home in Game 5, Detroit didn't match Dallas' urgency and lost 2-1 before clinching the series on the road two nights later.
"We want to come out and play the best game of our lives," Draper said. "But in saying that, we want to stay within the system and the structure we have for this hockey club."
On the other hand, Pittsburgh is in an unfamiliar position. After rolling to 3-0 leads against the Ottawa Senators, New York Rangers and Philadelphia Flyers, the Penguins are now facing elimination in this postseason for the first time. The young group has not played poorly, they just have not been able to raise their game to the same level as Detroit.
"We haven't come out with a win in a couple of different occasions where we played pretty well," Penguins captain Sidney Crosby said Monday. "The chance has been there. … We just have to keep doing the same thing."
Pittsburgh is trying to avoid losing on the latest date the franchise has ever played. A victory in the same building where the Penguins were shut out in both Games 1 and 2 would force the series back to Pittsburgh for a Game 6 on Wednesday night.
"Our motivation is knowing they probably don't want to come back to Pittsburgh," Crosby said. "And they're certainly going to be desperate. But so are we."
Detroit coach Mike Babcock said Holmstrom will return to the Game 5 lineup after the left wing missed Saturday night's Game 4 victory in Pittsburgh while nursing a hamstring injury. Holmstrom will rejoin top-liners Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk, which allows the previously promoted Daniel Cleary to return with checkers Kris Draper and Maltby.
That is the only expected change for Detroit, which will not feature the 46-year-old Chris Chelios making his first series appearance since injuring a leg on May 17 against Dallas in the Western Conference finals. Babcock dispelled the notion he was wrestling with the decision to change what has been a successful mix on the blueline to accommodate the sentimental choice of including Chelios.
The race for the Conn Smythe Trophy, awarded to the most valuable player in the playoffs, isn't short of candidates. If Detroit wins Monday night, Zetterberg, goalie Chris Osgood, Lidstrom, Datsyuk and forward Johan Franzen would all appear to be in the running.
Zetterberg is Detroit's top scorer in the playoffs with 23 points on the strength of 12 goals and 11 assists. Four of his goals have come on the power play, two while short-handed, and overall three have been game-winners.
His 103 shots lead the league, but it's his defensive play in this postseason that simply can not be overlooked. Zetterberg is a plus-16, and was a huge part of Detroit's successful 5-on-3 late-Game 4 penalty kill that served as the pivotal point in the series.
Osgood replaced Dominik Hasek in Game 4 of the first round series against Nashville and hasn't surrendered the net since. He's gone 13-3 with a 1.45 goals-against average, posted a .936 save percentage and he has three shutouts.
Datsyuk has nearly matched Zetterberg's production. He has nine goals, 20 points, is a plus-13 and has one game-winner. Together, Zetterberg and Datsyuk – two of the league's three finalists for the Selke as the top defensive forward – have done a splendid job of providing offense and holding Crosby's top line in check.
Not to be forgotten is the two-month contributions of Franzen, who emerged from all the big names in Detroit to a league playoff-leading 13 goals. And then there's Lidstrom, the team's classy 38-year-old leader who has three goals, 13 points and a plus-nine rating.
It is this kind of talk among all the distractions that Babcock is trying to prevent from creeping into his players' minds before Game 5.
"What we have to rely on are the people in the room. People outside the room can't hurt you, but I don't know if they can help you," Babcock said. "It's the guys who are playing. It's keeping your emotions under control, keeping a clear mind and understanding the job.
"We just do the same things over and over and over so when we have an opportunity like this we just keep doing the same things," he added.