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PITTSBURGH (AP) - The Detroit Red Wings can win the Stanley Cup on Saturday night, even if they may not realize it.
Not in actuality, of course. At last check, the NHL still requires a team to win four games to lift the Stanley Cup, not three.
No matter, a Red Wings victory on Pittsburgh's home ice would likely be a devastating blow to a young Penguins team that was waxed by a combined 7-0 score in the first two games in Detroit, then needed two Sidney Crosby goals to win 3-2 in Game 3 on Wednesday.
The Penguins are 17-0 at Mellon Arena since Feb. 24, and goalie Marc-Andre Fleury hasn't lost there in six months, going 19-0 since the night before Thanksgiving. Now that's a home-ice advantage.
Pittsburgh has seized on that home-ice domination as the primary reason to think it can even the series despite Detroit's big edge in Games 1 and 2. The Penguins players talk daily about how comfortable they are at home, how their fans motivate them, how their confidence swells whenever they step on that ice.
Coincidentally, their sellout crowd will be the Penguins' 66th in a row at home, appropriate given that co-owner Mario Lemieux wore No. 66 during his Hall of Fame career.
"If feels so great to be at home," forward Max Talbot said Friday. "In the back of your head, you're confident and you're happy to be back in the series. It's more of a mental thing than anything."
Take that away, and the Red Wings may take away the series - and as early as Game 5 on Monday night in Detroit.
"I'm not a big believer in momentum," Red Wings coach Mike Babcock said, referring to Pittsburgh's victory in Game 3. "I just think you start a new day."
If the Red Wings win Game 4, the Penguins would have a mathematical chance of winning the Cup, but possibly little else. Only six teams in the finals have forced a Game 7 after trailing 3-1 and only one, the 1942 Maple Leafs against the Red Wings, rallied to win.
The Penguins would also have to win twice in a six-day span in Detroit, something they couldn't do there once last weekend.
Given how difficult the Penguins acknowledged it would be to win the series if they trailed 3-0, being down 3-1 would be little better given Detroit's home-ice edge.
So, in what figures to be a pivotal Game 4 - there's a big difference between being tied at 2 and leading 3-1 - the Red Wings again want to throttle the Penguins' fast skaters in the neutral zone. They also want to make it difficult for Crosby and Evgeni Malkin to get scoring chances, and find a way to get the opening goal past Fleury.
"I think the team that gets that first goal, it feels more confident and the team that's behind is pressing a little more," Detroit defenseman Nicklas Lidstrom said. "I think we've seen that in this series and in previous series, too."
These very experienced Red Wings also want to make sure they don't get swept up by the Penguins' speed, something they haven't done until now.
"As a team coming in here, you have to play real well in your own end and you have to make them play defense, too," Lidstrom said.
The Red Wings expect to have Tomas Holmstrom back on their top line with Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk, even though Holmstrom injured a hamstring while colliding with 6-foot-7 Penguins defenseman Hal Gill in Game 3.
Babcock said it will be the player's decision - and Holmstrom said he would have played if the game had been on Friday.
Holmstrom, who specializes in establishing himself in front of the crease to frustrate and distract goalies, will test his leg during the pre-game skate Saturday.
"If it's like this, I think I'll be OK," Holmstrom said.
If Holmstrom can't go, Dan Cleary would likely move up to the top line and Darren McCarty would play again after being held out since Game 1. Johan Franzen, who has a playoffs-leading 13 goals and scored in Game 3, also might assume the front-of-the-net role at times.
Regardless of whether Holmstrom plays, Penguins coach Michel Therrien is lobbying yet again for more obstruction penalties against the Red Wings, who have allowed only three goals in three games.
Therrien complained about the Red Wings' defensive tactics following his team's 3-0 loss in Game 2. He renewed his lobbying campaign on Friday after being asked about the Penguins' home-crowd advantage.
Reminded he didn't answer the question, Therrien said, "I understand your question, but I want to say my point, too."
A Penguins victory makes it a best-of-three series, and they believe that favors them given their substantial advantage in age. A majority of the Penguins are 30 or younger, but most of the key Red Wings players are 30 or over - some, well over 30.
"We know they're a team with a lot of pride and a lot of experience, and they're not going to accept losing, either," Crosby said. "So it's going to be a tough win."
One that very well could decide the Stanley Cup.
"If anything, I see us being even more into it because we're actually back in this thing," Penguins defenseman Ryan Whitney said. "We got stage one accomplished ... (now) it's about getting this win and making it a whole new series."
|Jun 04 '08||DET 3 at PIT 2||H. Zetterberg|
|Jun 02 '08||PIT 4 at DET 3 - OT||P. Sykora|
|May 31 '08||DET 2 at PIT 1||J. Hudler|
|May 28 '08||DET 2 at PIT 3||A. Hall|
|May 26 '08||PIT 0 at DET 3||B. Stuart|
|May 24 '08||PIT 0 at DET 4||M. Samuelsson|
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