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DETROIT (AP) -NHL commissioner Gary Bettman spent his annual Stanley Cup finals news conference discussing scheduling, expansion, labor issues and ... octopus gunk.
The finals must be back in Detroit.
A 56-year-old playoff tradition is alive - if not the octopi, which are smuggled into Joe Louis Arena and hurled on to the ice by rabid Red Wings fans, who send the slimy mollusks airborne to celebrate a good play or goal.
Unless the Pittsburgh Penguins can figure out how to stop Detroit's forwards and generate a few scoring chances in Game 2 Monday night, the Joe Louis ice is going to resemble the bottom of the ocean.
Rather than stand pat - and risk more octopus sightings - following their 4-0 drubbing on Saturday night, the Penguins are taking a proactive approach with coach Michel Therrien switching his lines at Sunday's practice.
Pascal Dupuis was dropped from captain Sidney Crosby's line and was replaced by Ryan Malone. Dupuis instead skated with Jordan Staal and Tyler Kennedy.
Crosby said the players are accustomed to changing lines, having done it all season.
"I don't think it's a huge deal," he said. "I think nobody's role changes when they change lines. I think everyone is expected to do the same thing. It's just different looks and sometimes it depends on who coach wants to play certain lines against and how they match up."
In addition to the line changes, Therrien is going with 42-year-old Gary Roberts, who was upset about being scratched on Saturday.
Therrien was reluctant to change a lineup that hummed to a 12-2 record in the Eastern Conference playoffs. The coach wanted to reward those who got the Penguins to the finals, but now feels the need to add a jolt in the form of Roberts, the oldest player on one of the league's youngest teams.
The Penguins are hoping Roberts' experience and playoff savvy will pay off against the Red Wings, who have won three Cups since 1997 and displayed a "been there, done that" consistency in Game 1.
And if the goals keep coming, so will the octopi.
Bettman said during Saturday's news conference that he has come to accept that octopi are part of the Detroit hockey experience.
However, he said the NHL will not tolerate the tradition of Joe Louis Arena building manager Al Sobotka picking up the cephalopods and twirling them around while standing on the ice.
As long as Sobotka retrieves the octopi and twirls them in the tunnel, the NHL doesn't mind.
"I don't know what the technical name is for stuff that comes off an octopus. I assume it's some sort of gunk," Bettman said. "When it sticks on the ice it's a problem, and when it gets on things - it actually in one game got on a goaltender as it was being swung."
"It's really more about making sure that no player hits something on the ice and blows out his knee. ... I have no illusions," the commissioner said. "The octopi will fly, but they just can't be swung because we've got to limit the gunk."
So far, Sobotka has abided by the rules, and the fans are as happy as ever.
On Saturday night, the already hyped crowd was whipped into more of a frenzy by an elaborate pregame show that featured the team's purple mascot, Al the Octopus, descending from a video scoreboard hanging over center ice. The national anthem came next, and as longtime anthem singer Karen Newman belted out the final note, two octopi came crashing down on the ice.
Sobotka carried the animals just off the ice surface, and the video scoreboard caught him twirling them with gusto - to the delight of the crowd.
John Crum, clad in a black No. 87 Crosby jersey, was in town to support his hometown Penguins on Saturday night. The Adams Township, Pa., resident said he was aware of the octopus-tossing tradition, but "I don't get it."
"I know they get riled up by it," he said.
According to the team, the octopus first made its appearance on April 15, 1952.
Two Detroit brothers threw it on the ice at Olympia Stadium, the idea being that each tentacle was symbolic of a win in the playoffs.
Back then, the six-team NHL required only eight wins of its playoff champion, not the current 16.
The Red Wings swept the series that year, and the octopus has been here ever since.
The tradition carried to Joe Louis Arena on opening night in 1979 when several found their way on to the ice, and the practice is going strong in 2008.
Sobotka is proud to be a part of it.
"(The league's crackdown) was disappointing, but they're still letting me do it in the Zamboni area. So, that's a bonus," he said.
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