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PITTSBURGH -- The Red Wings are playing a game they didn't want to play, in a city where they don't want to be, against a growing-confident Pittsburgh Penguins team they were certain would be long gone by now.
Such are the perils of the Stanley Cup finals where, as the Red Wings discovered during a riveting but heartbreaking Game 5, no lead is truly safe and no team is safely eliminated until the final horn sounds.
Fifty-eight minutes won't do it. Neither will 59 1/2 minutes, as the Red Wings were reminded during their history-making 4-3, triple-overtime loss Monday night that cut their lead to 3-2 and sent the series back to Pittsburgh for Game 6 on Wednesday night.
The Stanley Cup was unpacked and spiffed up, so close the Red Wings could touch it. Only they couldn't after Pittsburgh's Max Talbot tied it with only 34.3 seconds remaining and Petr Sykora won it in the third overtime, giving the Penguins new life in a finals that appeared over.
"Afterward, you realize we did have a great chance to win it. But we didn't," Red Wings captain Nicklas Lidstrom said. "So that's it. You have to put that behind you and move on."
Still, the disappointment was tangible. No NHL team has gone so deep into an elimination game with a lead only to have it yanked away, teased and tempted by the Cup before having it stowed for another night.
The Red Wings returned to Pittsburgh determined to make that Wednesday night, rather than waiting for a Game 7 back in Detroit on Saturday in which there would be no guarantees. No even for a team that once led the series 3-1.
"We still have a great opportunity here," defenseman Brian Rafalski said. "That's how you have to look at it. No one said it's going to be easy. And it's not going to happen, and obviously didn't happen, in five games."
The Penguins' goal? To make sure it doesn't happen in six games, either, and the franchise plays the first Stanley Cup Game 7 in its history.
To do that, the Penguins need some carryover momentum from one of the most remarkable wins in team history, more goaltending like they got during Marc-Andre Fleury's 55-save game - and a belief.
Mostly, the belief that they've gotten into the Red Wings' heads and created doubt that wasn't there when Detroit won the first two games at home by a combined score of 7-0.
How rare was Pittsburgh's comeback? No team in 72 years, or since the 1936 Maple Leafs against the Red Wings, extended the finals after scoring in the final minute of regulation in a potential elimination game.
"They kind of had it in their pocket, and it (is) going to be hard for them to get up for this game," Sykora said. "So I think it's going to be a huge game."
For the first time since the Penguins were founded in 1967, the Stanley Cup will be in Mellon Arena, ready to be presented.
Only it can't be to them, hence their determination that the Cup be packed up yet again and sent back to Detroit where, for the first time, the Penguins would also have a chance to win it.
"Let's make sure, this our last game in Pittsburgh, (that) we're going to really make sure that it's going to be pretty special," coach Michel Therrien said.
Red Wings coach Mike Babcock's thinking is a team that won all three of its previous series this spring on the road will put aside the disappointment, shove aside the bad memories and respond with the kind of game that will win the Cup.
"As tough as it was at times (in Game 5), we're up 3-2 in the Stanley Cup finals and let's get ready," Babcock said.
Babcock believes the Red Wings will be calmer and more poised on the road, away from the distractions and the incessant talk about victory parades and Stanley Cup displays. Even though the Penguins are 9-1 at home in the playoffs and have won 17 of 18 there.
"I think being on the road is a great thing," Babcock said. "We've closed out every series on the road. As far as carryover from that (Game 5), it's a lesson learned. They're good players. It won't happen again. Sometimes you need to be reminded."
The Red Wings' worry is they've given the Penguins reason to believe, an opening they can exploit, a chance they shouldn't have had.
"We're still here, still battling, and we still have an opportunity here," Sidney Crosby said.
The Red Wings, with five players who can win their fourth Stanley Cup with the team, hope this is where their edge in age and experience pays off against the young, feisty Penguins.
"We're a confident team, we're a confident group," Kris Draper said. "We feel that we can come into another team's building and be successful."
So successful, they don't leave without the Stanley Cup this time.
"I think when we play on the road, it brings out the best in our team," goalie Chris Osgood said. "It has all year, and it will again (in Game 6)."
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