The Detroit Red Wings and Pittsburgh Penguins face off for the seventh and final time on Friday night (CBC, CBCSports.ca, 7:30 p.m. ET) and to the victors go the spoils — the Stanley Cup.
The Red Wings have much to gain by winning the decisive Game 7: back-to-back Stanley Cups for the first time since 1997 and 1998; their fifth championship in the past 12 seasons and 12th in franchise history; plus the satisfaction "that you have won it," Red Wings head coach Mike Babcock said.
Kris Draper, Tomas Holmstrom, Nicklas Lidstrom and Kirk Maltby have grown accustomed to winning the Stanley Cup, hoisting it four times with the Red Wings.
But it would be a first for four others — Justin Abdelkader, Jonathan Ericsson, Marian Hossa and Ville Leino.
Hossa, in particular, feels the need to prevail over the Penguins, having starred for them in last spring's six-game loss to Detroit in the final and signing with the Red Wings over the off-season because he figured they were ripe to repeat as champions this season.
Hossa tallied a team-high 40 goals for the Red Wings this season, but the Penguins have held him off the scoresheet in the final and have him wondering if he made the right decision.
Win, he is a champ. Lose, he is a chump.
"I don't really care right now," Hossa said. "We have one game for the championship.
"I don't have to [score]. But it would be nice — beating Pittsburgh is the most important thing."
Home-ice advantage certainly helps, historically at least, with host teams winning 12 of the 14 Game 7s played in the final.
"It is huge, those home games," Hossa said. "They give you an extra jump."
'Streaks are meant to be broken'
The home team has won each of the six games in this year's final, the fifth time that has happened since the NHL introduced the seven-game format in 1939.
In three of the previous four instances, the home team also won Game 7 — the lone exception being the Montreal Canadiens, 3-2 winners in Game 7 at Chicago in 1971.
"I don't know how much of an advantage there is to playing at home," Penguins defenceman Brooks Orpik said. "When you get to a Game 7, it is kind of a crapshoot.
"It is just whoever plays better that night. Streaks are meant to be broken, so we might as well do it now."
The Red Wings have won 11 of 12 home games in this latest playoff run, including three over Pittsburgh.
But the Penguins played well enough in Games 1 and 2 — both 3-1 losses — to know they can beat the odds.
"We know what the challenge is," Penguins rookie head coach Dan Bylsma said. "We know the team we're facing and where we're playing the game.
"The challenge is to make sure we're focused and get the right thoughts about how we need to play as individuals and as a team."
"The road to get here kind of prepares you for that because you're put in so many situations when you've faced a lot of adversity and it is a hostile environment," Penguins forward Craig Adams said. "What we have done to get here will prepare the guys for that."
Adams and teammates Ruslan Fedotenko and Petr Sykora (out with a broken right foot) have played in Game 7 of a Stanley Cup final, with Fedotenko scoring both goals in the Tampa Bay Lightning's 2-1 Cup-clinching victory over the Calgary Flames in 2004.
"I wouldn't be surprised to see Ruslan say a few words like 'Just shoot the puck on net' because that is what he did in that Game 7 when he got those two big goals," Bylsma said. "He was able to get the game-winner in Game 7 for Tampa and that is what it is going to take."
Asked what it takes, Fedotenko replied: "It is not about scoring. It is about winning."
'This year is totally different'
Pittsburgh winning would herald a changing of the guard in the NHL, with Sidney Crosby, Marc-Andre Fleury — two former No. 1 draft picks — and Evgeni Malkin, the newly crowned scoring champion and post-season points leader, personifying the new guard poised to replace the old like Lidstrom, Chris Osgood and Henrik Zetterberg.
The NHL's youth movement is something not lost on the Red Wings, a savvy collection of experienced veterans with just a sprinkle of exuberance.
"This year is totally different," Maltby said. "We played a team in Columbus that was in their first playoff ever, so we knew they were going to come out and play us extremely hard, especially when we went there for Games 3 and 4.
"When you see that atmosphere from a team that has never been there before — and they had lots of guys on that team who hadn't been in the playoffs, period — it allows you to get focused really quickly."
Pittsburgh is focused on erasing the memory of last year's loss to Detroit in the final.
Crosby, the NHL's poster boy, even broke with tradition by touching the Prince of Wales Trophy — something considered verboten — when Pittsburgh clinched the Eastern Conference.
Last year, he refused to touch it and the Penguins lost the final in six games.
"I think you try to push it [superstition] aside," Crosby said. "For me, personally, that is the way I look at it."
"The main thing is not to have any regrets," he continued. "You want to go in there and make sure you have done everything to prepare and leave it all out there.
"It is a pretty simple situation. There is no thinking about it — you have got to empty the tank."
May the best team win.