Pens' lesson shouldn't be lost on Flyers
PHILADELPHIA -- What is history if not to remind us of what has been and what might yet be?
Pittsburgh GM Ray Shero was watching Game 5 of the Stanley Cup finals between the Flyers and Blackhawks and was reminded of his own team's play almost exactly one year ago in a series that has more than a few parallels to this year's compelling clash.
"At least Philly was in that game," Shero said of Sunday's 7-4 defeat in Chicago, a win that gave the Blackhawks a 3-2 series lead. "We weren't even in the game [last year]."
Shero was referring to the Penguins' lackluster 5-0 loss to the defending Stanley Cup champion Red Wings. Like the Flyers, Pittsburgh had battled back after dropping the first two games on the road and looked like they had seized momentum with wins in Pittsburgh in Games 3 and 4. But then, the Penguins stunk out Joe Louis Arena in Game 5.
"I was steaming," Shero recalled. "Your emotional reaction is, you've got to be kidding me. Your first reaction is that this was an unbelievable opportunity."
But by the time Shero arrived in the coaches room at Joe Louis Arena, team owner Mario Lemieux was already there talking to coach Dan Bylsma and the rest of the staff, assuring them that everything was going to be OK and telling them not to worry about the Game 5 loss. Later, on the team charter, Shero and the coaches were sitting together and talking about how important Lemieux's demeanor had been to the team. He didn't flip out, scream or complain.
Shero sent a text to Lemieux, who was on another flight, thanking him for being so supportive. Moments later, Lemieux sent a note back saying he believed this was the Penguins' year and that they were going to win Game 6 two days later and Game 7 after that. His words turned out to be prophetic.
"I still have that text," Shero said.
Whether Bob Clarke or Ed Snider or even Bernie Parent sent a similar message to the Flyers after Sunday's desultory performance is moot. What is not moot is Shero's steadfast belief that one moment in a series does not beget the next.
"Who had the momentum after Game 4 [this year]? Philly. Who has it now? It doesn't exist," Shero said.
Bill Guerin was in the dressing room that night a year ago in Detroit. He said the Penguins boarded their flight home unafraid of losing the series, thinking only of the alternative.
"My mentality of it was we only have to win one game. Let's just win that one and we'll see what happens after that," Guerin told ESPN.com on Monday. "You can't get ahead of yourself. You are where you are."
The Penguins were able to forget how badly they were beaten in Detroit and got a huge game from Marc-Andre Fleury in goal to edge the Wings 2-1 and force the deciding game in Detroit, which they also won by a 2-1 score.
"You need every guy to buy into it. You need every guy to believe it and we did," Guerin said. "Until you're out, you have a chance, and that's just how we approached it."
Even when the Pens trailed the Wings 2-0 in the series, "nobody thought we were out of it, and we weren't," the veteran winger said.
As for this spring, Guerin said the Flyers have a veteran team and play well at home, so it wouldn't surprise him to see another Game 7 on the horizon. That said, Guerin hasn't watched a minute since the Penguins were ousted by the Montreal Canadiens in Game 7 of the second round.
"It's just the way I am. I get jealous," Guerin said. "I hate watching the other teams having all the fun. It kills me."
Flyers coach Peter Laviolette wouldn't say what he thought a year ago after the Red Wings schooled the Penguins and looked to have an easy track to a second straight Cup. He did, however, recall his own experience with the Carolina Hurricanes in 2006. The Canes had blown a 3-1 series lead against the Oilers, including a terrible performance in Game 6 in Edmonton.
"It was a similar game to [Sunday] night. They were quicker than us and had more opportunities at the net," Laviolette said Monday. "I think what it does is it makes you remember that there's just one game -- they're just one-game parts of a series, and you really have to remember that, whether it's good or bad. When things are good, you win a couple of games, you want to try and separate that, so you don't feel too good about things, you don't get too high.
"Because there's a good chance the other team just got more desperate. [The Hawks] got a little bit more desperate, and things didn't go our way last night. But again, you have to make sure that you are ready for the next game, that you put this one behind you. Because they're all separate. Just from my experience in 2006, we had a lousy [Game 6]. We had probably the best game of the year in Game 7."
As for his own team and what they will bring to the table Wednesday night in a must-win situation, Laviolette remains steadfastly optimistic as he has throughout a playoff year that has seen an incredible swing in emotion for the Flyers.
"I think that when you get to this point, there's a tremendous amount of confidence in your team to win hockey games," Laviolette said. "They get it and they understand it. If any team gets it, this team gets it, because we've been here so many times.
"Again, to have our back against the wall, we'll be comfortable with this tomorrow. I have no question that our team will respond in a manner in which it should so that we can be successful."
Although the coach wouldn't say who was going to start in goal for the Flyers, it will almost certainly be Michael Leighton even though he was pulled in Game 5, the second time he's been given the hook in this series. In those two games, he allowed eight goals on 33 shots. Ouch. But he's 6-0 at home this spring and the Flyers are 9-1 overall at Wachovia Center, so there's a high degree of comfort playing at home.
One player Laviolette does not have to worry about despite an off night is Chris Pronger. The big blueliner had one for the ages Sunday night, as he was a career-worst minus-5, on the ice for six Chicago goals and in the penalty box for a seventh. He jokingly described himself as "day-to-day with hurt feelings" after the outing.
"I think if we look just for Chris Pronger to do it, everybody will be in trouble," Laviolette said. "We are a team that, by all accounts, we win together, and usually it's a team effort. And when we lose, well, we do it as a team. Everybody could have been a little bit better last night. I'm sure Chris will have a big game and lead the way, but others -- we need to make sure that we have all hands on deck."
The coach echoed Shero's sentiments that whatever happened in Game 5, no matter how ugly, it is isolated from whatever will take place in Game 6.
"Again, it's one game. If you look at the final, it's like a novel, and there could be seven chapters in it, and each chapter is its own story," Laviolette said. "Last night in Chapter 5, [the Hawks] were probably happy with what they did, and we were not. It moves on to another day and another chapter. Our team will be ready to give it."
Scott Burnside covers the NHL for ESPN.com.