DETROIT – Even without Sidney Crosby for most of the game, the skilled and youthful Pittsburgh Penguins could not be kept from the Stanley Cup.
Max Talbot scored two goals and Marc-Andre Fleury made huge saves during a desperate third-period Detroit barrage as the Penguins defeated the Red Wings 2-1 in a gripping Game 7 to win the Cup on Friday night.
“It was so hard watching the clock tick down for the third period,” said Crosby, who played only one short shift after leaving the game early in the second period with a knee injury. “But everything it took to win, we did it – blocking shots, great goaltending, having different guys step up.”
The Penguins won a third Cup in their history and their first since capturing back-to-back championships in 1991 and 1992. The team has planned a championship celebration Tuesday in Pittsburgh, though it wasn’t immediately clear whether it would include a parade or rally.
It was a first for the Penguins’ new wave of young talent, led by Crosby, Fleury, Evgeni Malkin, Jordan Staal and others, who are expected to be an NHL power for years to come.
“We’ll have a great core for the next couple of years and I can see great things for this team in the future, but right now, I’m going to enjoy this,” said Talbot.
The Penguins did it with a pair of 2-1 victories after they were left reeling by a 5-0 loss in Game 5 in Detroit a week ago. But Fleury bounced back from being chased from that game with two exceptional outings while the older, injury-riddled Red Wings faltered.
Crosby played just one shift in the third period after suffering a knee injury early in the second period on a hit by Red Wings forward Johan Franzen. But nothing could prevent the 21-year-old from rushing onto the ice to join the celebration, or from hoisting the Cup, one year after suffering a heartbreaking loss to Detroit in the final.
“It is everything you imagined and more,” said the 21-year-old, the youngest captain ever of a Stanley Cup winning team.
Following the win, Prime Minister Stephen Harper called Crosby to congratulate him and the rest of the Penguins. Harper told Crosby that the entire country was proud of him.
Rookie Jonathan Ericsson scored with 6:07 left in the third period for Detroit, which failed in a bid for a second straight Cup and fifth in 12 seasons.
After the loss, coach Mike Babcock said his team didn’t have enough in the tank to keep up.
“I thought we looked out of gas pretty much all series,” he said. “I never thought we got to the level we’d like to.
“We had two crucial turnovers in the second period and they scored.”
On the first, Malkin took the puck from Brad Stuart on the forecheck and fed Talbot for a shot along the ice to the far post 1:17 into the period.
At 10:07, Chris Kunitz won a battle with Stuart to set up a two-on-one. Talbot elected to shoot and beat Chris Osgood high to the glove side for his eighth of the playoffs and team-leading fourth of the final.
The popular Talbot, whose linemate Malkin accused him jokingly of having “bad hands” early in the series, ended up leading the final with four goals.
“Hey, I still have bad hands,” the grinning Talbot said. “These two goals don’t improve my stick-handling skills.
“But I don’t care about the two goals. We won the game. Flower (Fleury) made some great saves. Gino (Malkin) won the Conn Smythe. Everybody sacrificed their body. Miro (Satan) goes down to block a shot. That’s how you win championships.”
The Penguins played the third as if they killing a penalty, and wound up being outshot 7-1 in the period. In the dying seconds, Fleury made a save on a shot through traffic from Pavel Datsyuk, then threw his body across the crease to block Nik Lidstrom on the rebound to preserve the win.
“I looked up at the clock and there were six seconds left and I couldn’t believe it was actually going to happen,” said tearful 38-year-old forward Bill Guerin, who joined the Penguins at the trade deadline and picked up his second career Cup, 14 years after the first with New Jersey.
“I was so young and I thought I would get a million cracks at it. You just don’t. All I’ve wanted the rest of my career was one more chance. Thank God for Max Talbot.”
It was a hard loss to swallow for Red Wings winger Marian Hossa, who left the Penguins as a free agent last summer because he felt he had a better chance to win in Detroit. Booed in Pittsburgh, Hossa was held without a goal in the final.
“Regret? I don’t have any regrets,” said Hossa. “Whether your like it or not, there’s going to be pressure. It squeezes you. It’s very difficult to play like that.”
The crowd of 20,066 spurred their team with chants and roars through a stunning end to what had been a thriller series between Pittsburgh’s young talent and Detroit’s cool and efficient veterans. They also cheered when Crosby was injured and booed as Pittsburgh celebrated its win.
“They have great talent and we tried to pack it in a bit,” said Penguins defenceman Rob Scuderi. “Everyone came back and didn’t allow them quality chances. And (Fleury) was there for us when we needed him most.
“We’ve come a long way with a good core group but we kinda expected it. We have some great players here. It was a matter of putting it all together and we finally did.”
Crosby left the game 5:30 into the second period following Franzen’s hit, which jammed his left leg. The playoff goal-scoring leader limped to the bench and to the training room with an injured knee and didn’t return until the third period, playing just one 32-second shift.
The Penguins led 1-0 at the time and Talbot got his second goal five minutes later as Crosby’s teammates, many getting more ice time than they’re used to, worked to contain an all-out attack from the Red Wings the rest of the way.
.Joe Louis Arena erupted in glee when Fleury missed Ericsson’s high shot from the right point with his glove to make it a one-goal game.
With just under two minutes to play, Niklas Kronwall’s wrist shot had Fleury beat but struck the cross-bar and a last-minute six-man swarm came up empty.
“We had our win last year but we’ll learn from this too,” said Red Wings forward Henrik Zetterberg. “We’ll come back stronger.”
Osgood lauded Talbot’s performance.
“Those were two nice goals,” said Osgood. “I complimented him when we shook hands.”
The Penguins matched the 1971 Montreal Canadiens as the only teams to win the Cup on the road in Game 7 after home teams won all six previous games, and the only teams to win two Game 7s on the road in the same playoff year. Pittsburgh won in Washington in seven in the second round.
The Penguins looked unlikely even to make the playoffs in mid-February, but the replacement of head coach Michel Therrien with rookie Dan Bylsma, the return of Sergei Gonchar from injury and trades for Kunitz and Guerin ignited a 18-3-4 finish to the regular season, and they carried the hot run into the post-season.
Bylsma became only the second rookie coach to win the Cup after joining his team in mid-season, after Al MacNeil with the 1971 Canadiens.
“I’ve had dreams about this, but good coaches have coached a long time and never got an opportunity like this,” said Bylsma. “A lot of times you’re first opportunity doesn’t come with a team that’s this talented.”
Home teams are now 12-3 all-time in Game 7s of the final series.
Malkin, who had an assist for 36 post-season points, is the fifth player to lead the league in scoring in both the regular season and the playoffs in the same year. The others were Mario Lemieux, Wayne Gretzky (four times), Guy Lafleur (twice) and Phil Esposito (twice).
The Penguins are 5-0 all-time in playoff game 7s on the road.
Notes: Miroslav Satan was back in the Penguins lineup in place of winger Petr Sykora, who made his first appearance in the final in Game 6 and broke his right foot late in the third period. … Crosby (31) and Malkin (36) are the first teammates with 30 or more points in the same playoff year since Brian Leetch (34) and Mark Messier (30) in 1994 with the New York Rangers. … Lidstrom passed Claude Lemieux for fourth place in career playoff games played with 235, behind teammate Chris Chelios (266), Patrick Roy (247) and Mark Messier (236). … Boxing legend Muhammad Ali watched from a box seat in a Wings’ jersey. … Everything’s eco-freindly these days, including the championship T-shirts handed the winning team after the game – a new organic cotton design from Reebok.