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Can Pens take final step?

Dan Di Sciullo, NHL Editor

Dan Di Sciullo Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - For now, the Pittsburgh Penguins can be content that they were able to push the Detroit Red Wings to a seventh and final game in the Stanley Cup Finals.

But, what are the chances of Pittsburgh actually going a step further and winning it all on Friday night in Motown?

Things have not gone well for the Penguins in Detroit so far in the Cup Finals. The Red Wings have won all three of their games on home ice in this series, and outscored Pittsburgh by an 11-2 margin in those contests.

That's bad enough but, as a road club in Game 7 of the Cup Finals, Pittsburgh also has history going against it. Home teams are 12-2 in Game 7s in Stanley Cup Finals history and the last club to win a decisive game on the road was the 1971 Montreal Canadiens, who beat the Chicago Blackhawks.

In many ways, the Pens should look to that Canadiens club of 38 years ago for inspiration. Pittsburgh could also become the first team since the '71 Habs to win it all after losing the first two games of the Cup Finals on the road.

This series also marks the fifth time that the first six games of the Cup Finals have been won by the home club. The only road team to win Game 7 after the home club went undefeated in the first six matchups? That's right, the 1971 Canadiens.

The biggest question for Pittsburgh heading into Friday's showdown is what to expect from goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury. Fleury was superb at home in this series, but has been dreadful in games played at Joe Louis Arena.

Fleury has stopped just 66-of-77 shots in Detroit and will have to rebound from last Saturday's awful performance in Motown. The Pens lost Game 5 by a 5-0 score and Fleury was pulled after allowing all five goals on just 21 shots.

Granted, the entire Pittsburgh team had a bad night in Game 5, but Fleury never looked comfortable and he let the game get away from the Pens by surrendering four goals in the second period.

Assuming Fleury is able to step up and play well in a Game 7 on the road, the rest of the Penguins need to show more composure than they did in last Saturday's blowout at the Joe. Once the game began to swing in the Red Wings' favor, the Pens began to take their frustrations out, physically, on the nearest Detroit skater.

All told, the Pens were whistled for 12 penalties in Game 5 and three of those were 10-minute misconducts. Pittsburgh star center Evgeni Malkin was sent to the penalty box on three separate occasions, not exactly a place the Penguins want to see this year's Art Ross Trophy winner.

Speaking of Malkin, he and captain Sidney Crosby are likely going to need to play their best games of this series if they want to hoist Lord Stanley's Cup. Malkin has a goal and an assist in the three games in Detroit this series, while Crosby has failed to register a point over that same span.

More or less, the Pens are going to have to play a perfect game on Friday to become just the third team in NHL history to win the Stanley Cup in a road Game 7.

Getting Fleury on track in Detroit is the main obstacle for Pittsburgh in its quest for a title. However, if the goaltender is able to make some big saves early in Friday's battle, then it's possible that he could build enough confidence to carry him and his teammates to a victory.

History is not in Pittsburgh's favor, but that doesn't mean the Pens have no chance in Game 7.

It's been quite some time since the '71 Habs won that decisive game on the road, and a repeat performance is long overdue.

HOSSA A NO-SHOW FOR WINGS

The biggest storyline heading into this year's Cup Finals surrounded Red Wings forward Marian Hossa and his offseason exodus from Pittsburgh to Detroit. However, Hossa has failed to make his mark in this series, posting just three assists over the first six games.

Hossa became Public Enemy No. 1 in Pittsburgh after signing a one-year deal with Detroit just weeks after the Red Wings dispatched the Pens in last year's Stanley Cup Finals. The Slovakian sniper wanted desperately to win a Cup, and felt Detroit offered his best chance at achieving that goal.

Everything went as planned, as the Red Wings are just one win away from their second straight Cup crown, but Hossa, who led Detroit with 40 goals during the regular season, has disappointed in the NHL's second season. He hasn't scored a goal since tallying twice in Game 4 of the Western Conference finals against Chicago and has a respectable but hardly sensational 15 points (6 goals, 9 assists) in the 2009 postseason.

The Red Wings were expecting more from Hossa in this year's playoffs, after he posted 12 goals and 26 points for Pittsburgh last spring. He also played his best hockey in the final round, when he notched three goals and four helpers in six games for the Penguins.

Detroit doesn't need Hossa to break out of his slump in order to win on Friday night, but a big game from No. 81 certainly wouldn't hurt.

Hossa was criticized by many folks for trying to hitch his wagon to the Red Wings' dynasty just to get his name etched on the Cup. He could certainly silence those critics by being the hero in Game 7.

Comments? Criticism? Applause? Contact Dan Di Sciullo at ddisciullo@sportsnetwork.com.
Dan Di Sciullo