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Monday, May 12, 2014

Two Words by @DJH00tiE

Game. Seven.

That's what it comes down to Tuesday night in Pittsburgh. It's been like a bad dream for Pens fans, who went from being on fire, winning games 2-4 by outscoring New York 9-2, to ice cold. Losing games 5 and 6, they scored only 2 goals of their own. There's no doubt Consol Energy Center will be flooded with eager fans anticipating the clock hitting 0:00, with the home team having more goals on the scoreboard and hoping to erase the painful memory of last year's winless Eastern Conference Final. 

They have the team to win the Stanley Cup this year, but one more game stands in the way of that goal of advancing to the next round. If they want to hoist one of the most coveted trophies in all of sports, if they want their claim to fame when it comes to being able to sustain long series, if they want to be known as one of the greatest teams to ever play the game, they need to step their game up when the puck hits center ice Tuesday night.

The playoffs have been a puzzle that they haven't been able to find the pieces to as of late. They've been unable to win half of their first round series over the last 4 years, but finally looked on track in last season's playoffs, before scoring a mere 2 goals in 4 games and getting swept by the Boston Bruins. The Penguins have made it out of the second round and into the Eastern Conference Finals just once (last season) since winning it all in 2009, and despite having one of the best teams in the league for the last 7 years, the Pens have managed just a trio of conference championship appearances. Which sounds like a lot, but any NHL expert will tell you that they should be there more. A lot of that blame has fallen on the shoulders of the goaltender, Marc-Andre Fleury.

Statistically, Fleury is having the best playoffs since the '07-'08 season, when the Pens lost to the Red Wings in the Stanley Cup Final. His save percentage (.916) and goals against average (2.43) up to this point are the second best of his career in the postseason. It's true he's allowed some spotty goals and while the Rangers have gotten lucky, he hasn't been as consistent. However the fact of the matter is, he has kept his team in games. Pittsburgh has been involved in more 1 goal games (6) than any other team in the playoffs, most of which involving what I like to call "The 4-3 Jamboree" during the 1st round against the Columbus Blue Jackets. Fleury has a 3-3 record this postseason in games decided by 1 goal.

Then you must look at the play on the opposite side of the ice. The Rangers have had a do or die mentality since they dropped game 4, going down 3-1 in the series. Maybe it's the play of Henrik Lundqvist. The veteran goaltender has been solid, allowing only 2 goals in the last 2 games after allowing 9 in games 2-4. He's been on point, making electrifying saves that have kept his team ahead most of the last 120 minutes. 

Maybe it's Martin St. Louis, who has been an inspiration for his team. Playing in game 5, just 24 short hours after discovering of his mother's unexpected passing in France, there is no doubt this Rangers team is rallying around him in support of his loss. Having lost my mother, I couldn't help but get a little emotional when he scored a goal in game 6... because it was on Mother's Day and that's just special. Regardless if you like the Rangers or not, you have to admire their heart.

No matter how you want to spin it, it takes a team to win Lord Stanley's Cup. It takes a team that plays as a whole, skates in fluid motion and maneuvers the puck through the defense to get just a look at the perfect shot. 

That perfect opportunity where the goalie is out of position. 

That precise look and pass across the crease to an open teammate who's evaded the opponent. 

Lines 1-4 must play to the caliber they are expected to play. Why? Because it's the Cup. It's win or go home for the Pittsburgh Penguins. It all comes down to 2 words...

Game. Seven.

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