The Panthers do have nine lives. The Penguins have a Game 7 they absolutely did not want. Suddenly, it's win one game or be gone in the Eastern Conference finals.
The winner goes to Denver to face an Avalanche of talent in the Stanley Cup finals. The loser goes off to whenever it is hockey players go when it's June 1 and there are no more games to play - often the golf course.The pressure is on for today's deciding game between the Florida Panthers and the Pittsburgh Penguins, whose contrasting styles and markedly different casts have made for the NHL's best playoff series.
But which team is it on?
The Panthers, throwaways and cast-asides whose irreproachable work ethic has forced a deciding game that seemed improbable at best once Pittsburgh seized a 3-2 lead?
Or the Penguins, the high-priced stable of talent whose big scorers have required rescuing by an unknown supporting cast named Dziedzic, Lauer and Roche?
"We're not even supposed to be here," Panthers forward Tom Fitzgerald said. "Pittsburgh has the superstars. We don't. I think all the pressure is on them."
"You don't like to leave it to Game 7," Penguins coach Eddie Johnston said. "The pressure is on both teams now, but we seem to respond very well when we're against the wall."
The record book proves that. Since 1991, the Penguins are 12-4 when they can eliminate an opponent and are 3-1 in Game 7.
But that loss has obsessed them for three years. With a seemingly clear path to their third consecutive Stanley Cup finals before them in 1993, they blew a 3-2 series lead and an overtime Game 7 to the Islanders on David Volek's overtime goal.
The Penguins clearly were the superior team, yet still couldn't win the series.
"To be honest with you, I think Pittsburgh is a better team," Panthers defenseman Terry Carkner said. "But that doesn't mean we can't win."
The Islanders game is the main reason why Mario Lemieux, the Penguins' shutdown superstar, didn't want to risk another Game 7, even in Pittsburgh.
"Nobody wants to play a Game 7," Lemieux said before Florida's come-from-behind 4-3 victory Thursday in Game 6. "Anything can happen - a hot goalie, or a couple of bad bounces."