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Pittsburgh Penguins players celebrate around goalie Marc-Andre Fleury after the Pengiuns defeated the Detroit Red Wings 2-1 in Game 6 of the NHL Stanley Cup final in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, June 9, 2009. The series is now tied 3-3. (JASON COHN)
Pittsburgh Penguins players celebrate around goalie Marc-Andre Fleury after the Pengiuns defeated the Detroit Red Wings 2-1 in Game 6 of the NHL Stanley Cup final in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, June 9, 2009. The series is now tied 3-3. (JASON COHN)

MacGregor

Penguins put aside the doubt Add to ...

It's not often a coach sets not only the lineup but the story line, as well.

But that's Dan Bylsma for you.

"Do we put aside the doubt?" the rookie head coach of the Pittsburgh Penguins was saying before the puck dropped on Game 6 of the NHL's Stanley Cup final, with his team in a do-or-die situation against the Detroit Red Wings.

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"Do we draw on what we are as individuals as a team to show our character and how we're going to come out and play tonight? That's going to be the story of Game 6.

"How did we battle? Did we dig down? Did we have the will and determination necessary to win this game? That will be the story line for tonight's game."

Did they dig down? They did. Did they have the will and determination necessary to win this game? Yes, they did - 2-1 on goals by 20-year-old Jordan Staal and little Tyler Kennedy. Kennedy's insurance marker would be required, as Detroit veteran Kris Draper scored shortly after.

"They were better than us tonight," Detroit coach Mike Babcock admitted when it was over.

A year ago, when these same teams met in the Stanley Cup final, Game 6 had spelled the end of the Pittsburgh dream.

This time, Bylsma argued, would be different.

"It's all about rebounding," he said. "There are times when this team, our team, has had a chance to buckle and didn't. We were down three goals in Philly in the first round in Game 6. We did not buckle. We were challenged by a good Washington team that was playing very well and their stars were playing exceptional, and we didn't buckle."

Pittsburgh, of course, is the perfect city for such a speech. Pittsburgh doesn't buckle. Never has.

It hasn't historically - parts of Fort Pitt still stand at the Forks as a reminder that the French couldn't take the fortification and a native uprising couldn't touch it.

It hasn't economically, shifting successfully from being all about iron and steel to becoming a modern city renowned for its universities and health services. When the financial meltdown struck a few months back, The New York Times singled out Pittsburgh as a city that had somehow escaped the industrial collapse: Unemployment steady, housing prices steady, wages up, foreclosures rare compared to such other American cities as … Detroit, another city forged to the steel industry but by that point already in economic freefall.

The Times even quoted a University of Pittsburgh urban expert saying: "If people are looking for hope, it's here."

And that was all Dan Bylsma and Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, the rest of the Penguins and 17,132 fans had to go on Tuesday night: hope.

Hope that they would not buckle under the relentless attack of the finely tuned Red Wings. When the Detroit attacks came, periodically but intense, the hope held solid, as did goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury, who has a post to thank for stopping Henrik Zetterberg on a wonderful chance and himself to congratulate for stopping Dan Cleary on a breakaway in the dying minutes.

"A pretty big save at a pretty big time," said a relieved Bylsma.

"It's a great feeling," said Fleury, who allowed five goals the previous game and needed a break.

None of this should be that surprising in this city, where the renowned luck of Pittsburgh sports teams of the past has reached legendary status.

The Penguins had the baseball Pirates for inspiration, in particular Bill Mazeroski's miracle home run against the New York Yankees in 1960, a swing of the bat that gave Pittsburgh a World Series title in the bottom of the ninth inning of the seventh, and final, game.

They had football's Steelers, and Franco Harris's legendary "Immaculate Reception" on a desperation fourth down that won a 1972 playoff game against the Oakland Raiders.

But most of all, they had themselves - only in an earlier version of the Penguins.

It was the 1991 Stanley Cup playoffs, with the Penguins up against an excellent New Jersey Devils team in the opening round. It was, rather appropriately, Game 6, with the opponents leading three games to two and requiring only this one last win to close things out and end the Penguins' Stanley Cup dreams.

It seemed a given right from the opening minutes of Game 6, when New Jersey's Peter Stastny found himself with the puck and the Pittsburgh net empty. All he had to do was fire the puck in to start the romp - but somehow, stunningly, Pittsburgh goaltender Frank Pietrangelo made a frantic dive back toward his net and somehow managed to catch Stastny's shot.

The Penguins went on to win the game, on to take the series and on all the way to the franchise's first-ever Stanley Cup.

"When you wake up in the morning, Bylsma said, "you have a choice to make, and we have one coming into Game 6. How are we going to come out and play?"

They came out as he had hoped they would. They did not buckle.

And the story line was as simple as promised - with a final chapter to come in this cliffhanger Friday night in Detroit.

"Winner takes the trophy home," said a smiling Bylsma to close this page.

Follow on Twitter: @RoyMacG

 

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