Hockey Today June 4

Hockey Today June 4

Time for a tight Game 6
By Judd Hall

You’ll hear all sorts of strange things when a Stanley Cup Finals game is going on at night.

For instance, the guy sitting next to me at the bar began cheering loudly when Pittsburgh’s Max Talbot tied the game at 3-3 with 35 second left in regulation. Meanwhile I sat there and drank my tasty adult beverage a little faster now that the Red Wings (which I took to close out the series tonight), saw the win leave their hands for the moment as did I with my wager on them as $2.55 home favorites.

I guess we should be impressed with the fact that the Penguins were able to make it back into the game at all. They opened the game with two straight goals in the opening period in spite of being outshot 8-7 in that 20-minute span. And to be fair, one of those scores came due to Detroit blue liner Niklas Kronwall misdirected a pass from the Pens’ Adam Hall to what became his third goal of the postseason.

The Wings didn’t let that miscue or deficit faze them, mind you. Instead, they took their time and chipped away at the lead with a Darren Helm goal. Then Detroit dominated the third period, outshooting the Pens 14-4, while taking a 3-2 lead that seemingly assured the fourth championship in 11 years…and my big bet. Well, it did until Talbot leveled the score in the waning seconds.

Overtime was Marc-Andre Fleury’s time to shine and he did just that by stopping all 20 shots fired his way in the extra sessions. He snuffed 55 of 58 shots in Game 5 and has a 92.7 save percentage for this series. If the Penguins find a way to win it all, Fleury will be your Conn Smythe Award winner…no ifs, ands, or buts about it.

So now we’re going back to the Steel City for Game 6. Back to a city that is full of hope after the heroics displayed on Monday night/Tuesday morning.

As heartwarming as that sounds, we’re in the business of trying to make money. And that actually could be possible right now for the bettors wanting to strike while the iron is hot. How many times can you actually get a club like the Pens as $1.10 home ‘dogs in the playoffs?

VegasInsider.com expert handicapper Mark Fox believes that recent history has played into this line. “Detroit has skated circles around the Penguins during this series, particularly in Game 4.” Fox adds, “It’s reasonable for the sportsbooks to think that the Wings will want to snuff this round out as quickly as possible.”

The sportsbooks have gone the vanilla route with the total, setting it at five. No 5 ½, no six goal total…FIVE. Now some people will believe this is a good spot to ride the ‘over’ since it hit in the game before, but you’d be in for a world of hurt. Prior to Monday night, the ‘under’ had gone 5-0-1 in the last six meetings.

A big reason the last match saw the score soar was Detroit wasn’t playing like itself. The puck hardly stayed on their stick, the defense wasn’t marking the proper players and Chris Osgood was losing a personal battle with the puck all night long. You can bet that Mike Babcock will have this club playing much better.

This tilt will get going on NBC at 8:00 pm EDT.

vegasinsider.com

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NHL LONG SHEET


DETROIT (69-26-0-8, 146 pts.) at PITTSBURGH (61-32-0-8, 130 pts.)

Top Trends for this game.
PITTSBURGH is 61-40 ATS (-7.4 Units) in all games this season.
PITTSBURGH is 41-22 ATS (+5.3 Units) second half of the season this season.
PITTSBURGH is 32-22 ATS (+2.1 Units) when playing against a team with a winning record this season.
PITTSBURGH is 22-14 ATS (+6.3 Units) when playing against a team with a winning record in the second half of the season this season.
DETROIT is 88-47 ATS (+17.5 Units) when playing against a team with a winning record over the last 3 seasons.

Head-to-Head Series History
DETROIT is 5-2 (+1.1 Units) against the spread versus PITTSBURGH over the last 3 seasons
DETROIT is 5-2-0 straight up against PITTSBURGH over the last 3 seasons
5 of 6 games in this series have gone UNDER THE TOTAL over the last 3 seasons . (Under=+4.2 Units)

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NHL SHORT SHEET

Stanley Cup Finals
Game Six
Red Wings Lead, 3-2
Detroit at Pittsburgh, 8:05 ET

Detroit:
40-13 SU off an Over
17-5 SU Away off OT loss

Pittsburgh:
5-13 SU at home off 3+ non-conf games
0-2 SU as home underdog

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2008 NHL playoffs

Experience helped Detroit gain 3-1 series edge, but now that the Penguins survived 3-OT elimination game Monday, scoring the tying goal in last minute of regulation, will the younger legs be a factor in helping Pens push series back to Detroit for deciding Game 7? Penguins are 6-1 in playoffs when game goes over the total; they're 9-1 at home in playoffs, losing last home game 2-1 Saturday night. Detroit was first team in decades to give up the tying goal in last minute of regulation, when they had chance to win the Stanley Cup that night.

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Trend Sheet

DETROIT vs. PITTSBURGH
Detroit is 6-2 SU in its last 8 games on the road
Detroit is 8-3 SU in its last 11 games when playing Pittsburgh
Pittsburgh is 14-5 SU in its last 19 games
Pittsburgh is 17-1 SU in its last 18 games at home

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Wednesday's best NHL bets
Covers.com

Detroit at Pittsburgh +115, 5

You have to give the Penguins credit for scraping out a triple-overtime victory in Detroit when it looked like they were absolutely done mid-way through the third period of regulation time.

They aren't selling themselves short. Ryan Malone kept hopping the boards after Hal Gill's bonehead riser from the point caught him flush in his already-broken beak. Then Sergei Gonchar nearly crashed through the end boards after hustling back to pressure Mikael Samuelsson a 2-on-1 that Marc-Andre Fleury somehow got his toe on. Gonchar spent the majority of the next three periods on the bench before setting up the winner deep into overtime. It was countless plays like these that earned Pittsburgh another home game.

The Pens just didn't quit when a lot of young teams, or experienced teams for that matter, would have. That said, it only gets tougher for Pens from here on out - even if they're back home for Game 6.

Detroit was off its game from the beginning of Game 5. Chris Osgood fought the puck all night and the Wings missed defensive assignments and kept turning the puck over in tough spots. And they were still the better team for most of the game and should be swigging from the Cup now instead of lacing up for Game 6.

That should be enough motivation in itself for the Wings to make sure that the next time they come back to Detroit it's for the Stanley Cup Parade, not Game 7.

Pick: Detroit

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Stanley Cup Gameday

The Penguins survived Game 5 in Detroit on Monday night, but they will need to post another victory in another must-win game back in Pittsburgh on Wednesday night.

The Penguins looked to be in good shape in Game 5 after jumping out to a quick 2-0 lead in the first period. Marian Hossa netted his 11th goal of the postseason, while Adam Hall also found the back of the net. Detroit quickly struck back with a goal from Darren Helm in the second period, while Pavel Datsyuk and Brian Rafalski scored in the third period to give Detroit a 3-2 lead. They started polishing the Stanley Cup in preparation to present it to Detroit, but Max Talbot postponed the celebrations after netting the game-tying goal with only 35 seconds to go in the game.

After two scoreless overtime periods Pittsburgh went on the power play after Jiri Hudler was assessed a high-sticking penalty. Petr Sykora finally gave everyone some much-needed rest, scoring the game-winner to give the Pens new life in the series. Sidney Crosby recorded a pair of assists in the game to increase his playoff-leading scoring total to 26 points.

The real stars of the epic game on Monday night were the goaltenders. Pittsburgh netminder Marc-Andre Fleury faced 58 shots in the game and made 55 saves to secure the win. Chris Osgood made 28 saves, but that was one too few for Detroit.

Injuries plagued the Penguins on Monday night, as both Sergei Gonchar and Ryan Malone left the game in the third period. Gonchar went head first into the boards, while Malone took a puck in the face minutes later. Both Gonchar and Malone returned to the ice in overtime, so they should be in the Pittsburgh lineup for Game 6.

The puck drops on Game 6 at 8 pm ET on Wednesday night, with the visiting Wings currently listed as -130 favorites to win the game and hoist the Stanley Cup. If the Penguins can pull out the win as +110 underdogs, Game 7 will be played in Detroit on Saturday night.

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Game 6 betting notes
ASSOCIATED PRESS

PITTSBURGH (AP) -Petr Sykora's game-winning goal in Game 5 of the Stanley Cup finals against Detroit was impressive enough. That he called his shot was better still.

During the first overtime intermission Monday night, Sykora predicted to his Pittsburgh Penguins teammates he would score the decisive goal. The prediction seemed a bit unrealistic, given Sykora had exactly one goal in 12 games and had yet to take a shot during the game.

But Sykora is remembered for scoring the game-winner for Anaheim in the fifth overtime of a 2003 conference semifinal series in Dallas. So his teammates listened, and remembered.

''When a guy like that steps out and says, 'I think I got one, guys,' you look at him and you hope he's saying the truth,'' Max Talbot said.

Sykora wasn't lying. He got the winning goal at 9:57 of the third overtime, his first and only shot of the game deciding the Penguins' 4-3 victory.

Called shot, indeed.

''When it happens, you can't believe it,'' Talbot said. ''You're like, 'Oh, my, he called it and it was great.' It's a great story to tell.''

It will be a better story if the Penguins somehow rally and win the Cup after trailing 3-1 in the series.

''I haven't touched the puck the whole game. I didn't have a real shot. I didn't have a scoring chance,'' Sykora said. ''I went through that before - the overtime in Dallas, I probably didn't have a shot, either.''

Still, given the circumstances and his own slump, did he really think he would score?

''I didn't feel I was going to score, but had to get (the team) a little looser out there and make a comment like that, give the guys a little laugh in the locker room,'' Sykora said. ''And I'm not complaining that it worked.''

---

A FLEURY FLUB: As a sleepy-eyed Penguins goalie Marc-Andre Fleury was waiting to be interviewed by a TV crew Tuesday, he juggled his water bottle and nearly dropped it. He deftly kicked it from his foot to his hand, only to fumble it again.

It was a forgivable flub following his 55-save performance Monday that may have been the best goaltending performance in Penguins history.

''Good thing the game (Game 6) isn't until tomorrow,'' Fleury said, smiling.

---

INJURY FRONT: Penguins defenseman Sergei Gonchar (back) and forward Ryan Malone (broken nose) are expected to play in Game 5. Malone underwent tests Tuesday after having his nose broken in Game 5 for the second time in the series, although he returned to play later in the game.

''I'll put it this way, I'll be surprised if he (Malone) is not playing,'' Penguins coach Michel Therrien said.

---

TENSION FACTOR: These numbers are evident: the Red Wings are outshooting and outscoring the Penguins in the finals. What can't be quantified is how much of a tension factor there will be for Detroit in Game 6.

Instead of possibly clinching the Cup before their own fans, they must win a second game in a row in Pittsburgh to avoid a decisive Game 7 in Detroit on Saturday night. Pittsburgh had a 17-game home ice winning streak before losing 2-1 in Game 4 on Saturday night.

Coach Mike Babcock thinks the Red Wings will be more relaxed in Pittsburgh than they were at home Monday, saying they were extremely tense while falling behind 2-1 after two periods in Game 5.

The Red Wings encountered a similar snag during the Western Conference finals against Dallas, losing a potential series-clinching Game 5 at home before winning Game 6 on the road.

''I think being on the road is a great thing,'' Babcock said. ''We've closed out every series on the road. As far as any carryover from that, it's a lesson learned. They're good players and it won't happen again.''

Hmm, almost sounds like a guaranteed win by Babcock.

''Sometimes, you need to be reminded,'' he said.

----

CRITICAL CALLS: The Red Wings had not one but two debatable overtime penalties for goaltender interference in Game 5, by Henrik Zetterberg in the first overtime and Dan Cleary in the second. The Red Wings killed off both Penguins power plays.

Babcock didn't want to be fined, and he initially tried to sidestep questions Tuesday about the calls. Finally, he said the players were simply driving to the net and shouldn't have been penalized.

''I'll jump on the soap box,'' he said. ''We talk about scoring more goals in the National Hockey League. We want more goals. No they don't, don't tell me that. I've never seen anything like that in my whole life.''

Asked if he planned a talk with the NHL about the calls, he said, ''Just had it.''

The reference was to Penguins coach Michel Therrien repeatedly lobbying through the media for more obstruction penalties.

---

NOTES: While more than 13,000 fans paid $5 each to watch Game 1 of the finals in Detroit on the Mellon Arena scoreboard in Pittsburgh, only about 3,000 did so Monday night. ... Game 6 will be the first Stanley Cup finals elimination game played in Pittsburgh since the Penguins came into the NHL in 1967. The Penguins won their only two previous Stanley Cups on the road, in 1991 (Minnesota) and 1992 (Chicago). ... The NHL signed a six-year broadcast and digital rights agreement Tuesday with TSN, Canada's version of ESPN. For the first time, all 70 regular-season games on TSN will feature at least one Canadian team. TSN will also televise three rounds of the Stanley Cup playoffs. ... Evgeni Malkin's assist on Sykora's game-winning goal was the first point of the series for the NHL's No. 2 scorer during the season. ... Penguins defenseman Brooks Orpik blocked 10 shots, or only four fewer than the entire Red Wings team.

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