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So here we are back in Steeltown, dear friends, a badly underestimated destination and home of the most charmingly decrepit arena in the NHL.

We love all things rustic, don't get us wrong - and there are some wonderful touches to this old barn, like the "Flood like a champion tonight" signs next to the Zambonis - but this place takes things to a new level.

But as French Immersion has observed in the past, game sevens are just different somehow, and this venerable stage is as appropriate a locale as any for this particular story to unfold.

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Herewith, a few observations from practice: when the Pens came out for their morning skate (they were up first at 10:30), they found an extra veteran on the ice.

It was Vladimir Malkin, a shorter, balder version of his superstar son Evgeni, who was shimmying around in his leather jacket a pair of pointy black street shoes and whipping passes back and forth with Maxime Talbot.

The elder Malkin, who once played for Russian team Magnitogorsk, hammed it up with the players as they came out, firing shots at the net from bad angles.

He left the ice when his son came on, and climbed up in the stands to watch practice, as he often does.

When FI suggested to Malkin that the team should have handed him a pair of skates and a jersey, he beamed: "Skates, yes, need skates."

Whether it's an omen of sorts is anyone's guess, but Penguins captain Sidney Crosby got a kick out of it.

"I didn't expect to see him there so yeah, it was funny," said Crosby.

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Not so much tomfoolery during the Habs skate - other than Jaro Halak going all mock-Billy Smith on P.K. Subban during a tip drill - the psychological game being played here is quite extraordinary.

If the Penguins lose, we'll have ample fodder to prove that they were preoccupied and distracted (Marc-Andre Fleury giggling nervously when it was pointed out to him that the Pens won all their game sevens on the road last year), or to hold up as an example of their superior mental toughness and steely determination (Crosby, sitting in his locker, which is next to the one Mario Lemieux still keeps in the Pens room: "this is what we play for.") Same thing on the Habs side of the ledger.

Was Subban concentrating and visualizing as he sat in his corner of the visiting locker room (the rattiest in the league, natch), or staring into space catatonically? Is the room really all business, or is that resignation?

"I only get nervous during the anthem," laughed Maxim Lapierre, "nothing to see here."


One man's clue is another man's, er, clue to something else.

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Interesting times, what? This should be a fun one to watch, gang.

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About the Author
National Correspondent

Sean Gordon joined the Globe's Quebec bureau in 2008 and covers the Canadiens, Alouettes and Impact, as well as Quebec's contingent of Olympic athletes. More

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