DETROIT – The scene was set perfectly for another Detroit Red Wings championship celebration.
Television cameras were rolling as the Stanley Cup was getting polished in the bowels of Joe Louis Arena and a delirious sellout crowd was chanting: “We want the Cup!” Then the NHL’s championship series took a twist. Pittsburgh Penguins checking forward Maxime Talbot tied the game with 34.3 seconds left Monday before Petr Sykora scored in the third overtime to give his team an unlikely 4-3 victory over the Red Wings.
“It was tough,” said Detroit forward Henrik Zetterberg.
He was just a half-minute away from lifting the Stanley Cup for the first time and will have to wait another two days before he’ll have another opportunity to realize that dream.
The teams will play Game 6 of this series back at Mellon Arena in Pittsburgh on Wednesday night. Detroit still leads the series 3-2 but the margin for error has shrunk.
“You were that close, and then, oh, tough,” said Red Wings coach Mike Babcock. “And I think it’s natural to feel bad for us for a bit, and feel bad for yourself. But it’s the Stanley Cup playoffs. It’s not supposed to be easy. It’s supposed to be a battle, and obviously we’re in one.”
There was no sense of panic in the veteran Red Wings in the immediate aftermath of this heartbreaking loss. Captain Nicklas Lidstrom was composed while speaking to a sea of reporters for at least 15 minutes.
He’s been through plenty of adversity in the past and the 38-year-old plans to see the Red Wings through another storm.
“We’re close to winning the Stanley Cup and no one said it’s going to be easy,” said Lidstrom. “They’re not going to give up over there on their side.”
Detroit carried the play for the majority of Game 5 and could easily have ended the series if not for a 55-save performance by Marc-Andre Fleury. The Penguins goalie was sensational and turned back several good chances during the three overtime periods.
Despite the chaotic ending, Babcock believes this game was lost in the first period. Pittsburgh grabbed a 2-0 lead in the opening frame as the Red Wings came out tentative while playing with the Stanley Cup in the building.
“I thought we were really nervous,” said Babcock. “We never made a play in the first period, for whatever reason. And (that might just be because we were) focusing on outcome rather than just process and doing what you always do.”
Still, they battled back with three unanswered goals and appeared ready to celebrate a fourth Stanley Cup victory in the past 12 years. The whole stadium was on its feet, anticipating a victory for the home team as Penguins coach Michel Therrien pulled Fleury from the goal.
That’s when Talbot came out from behind the Red Wings net and got a couple whacks at the puck before beating Chris Osgood. Suddenly, Joe Louis Arena fell silent.
“It’s not fun getting scored on that late in the game,” said Lidstrom.
Added fellow defenceman Niklas Kronwall: “We knew they weren’t going away.”
He had to feel especially bad after accidentally knocking the puck into his own net on Pittsburgh’s second goal.
Still, the Stanley Cup was still well within reach as the game headed to overtime. Detroit came out firing, outshooting the Penguins 13-2 in the first extra session, and nearly beating Fleury on a couple occasions.
The game was decided in the third overtime after Detroit’s Jiri Hudler had been sent to the box for four minutes for high-sticking Rob Scuderi. Sykora scored on that power play at 9:57 to send the series back to Pennsylvania.
When the puck is dropped in Game 6, the Red Wings will be looking to finish off a fourth consecutive playoff series on the road.
“We’ve had some tough games in Pittsburgh and I’m sure it’s going to be the same again,” said Lidstrom.