PITTSBURGH – Petr Sykora’s game-winning goal in Game 5 of the Stanley Cup finals against Detroit was impressive enough. That he called his shot was better still.
During the first overtime intermission Monday night, Sykora predicted to his Pittsburgh Penguins teammates he would score the decisive goal. The prediction seemed a bit unrealistic, given Sykora had exactly one goal in 12 games and had yet to take a shot during the game.
But Sykora is remembered for scoring the game-winner for Anaheim in the fifth overtime of a 2003 conference semifinal series in Dallas. So his teammates listened, and remembered.
“When a guy like that steps out and says, ‘I think I got one, guys,’ you look at him and you hope he’s saying the truth,” Max Talbot said.
Sykora wasn’t lying. He got the winning goal at 9:57 of the third overtime, his first and only shot of the game deciding the Penguins’ 4-3 victory.
Called shot, indeed.
“When it happens, you can’t believe it,” Talbot said. “You’re like, ‘Oh, my, he called it and it was great.’ It’s a great story to tell.”
It will be a better story if the Penguins somehow rally and win the Cup after trailing 3-1 in the series.
“I haven’t touched the puck the whole game. I didn’t have a real shot. I didn’t have a scoring chance,” Sykora said. “I went through that before – the overtime in Dallas, I probably didn’t have a shot, either.”
Still, given the circumstances and his own slump, did he really think he would score?
“I didn’t feel I was going to score, but had to get (the team) a little looser out there and make a comment like that, give the guys a little laugh in the locker room,” Sykora said. “And I’m not complaining that it worked.”
A FLEURY FLUB: As a sleepy-eyed Penguins goalie Marc-Andre Fleury was waiting to be interviewed by a TV crew Tuesday, he juggled his water bottle and nearly dropped it. He deftly kicked it from his foot to his hand, only to fumble it again.
It was a forgivable flub following his 55-save performance Monday that may have been the best goaltending performance in Penguins history.
“Good thing the game (Game 6) isn’t until tomorrow,” Fleury said, smiling.
INJURY FRONT: Penguins defenceman Sergei Gonchar (back) and forward Ryan Malone (broken nose) are expected to play in Game 5. Malone underwent tests Tuesday after having his nose broken in Game 5 for the second time in the series, although he returned to play later in the game.
“I’ll put it this way, I’ll be surprised if he (Malone) is not playing,” Penguins coach Michel Therrien said.
TENSION FACTOR: These numbers are evident: the Red Wings are outshooting and outscoring the Penguins in the finals. What can’t be quantified is how much of a tension factor there will be for Detroit in Game 6.
Instead of possibly clinching the Cup before their own fans, they must win a second game in a row in Pittsburgh to avoid a decisive Game 7 in Detroit on Saturday night. Pittsburgh had a 17-game home ice winning streak before losing 2-1 in Game 4 on Saturday night.
Coach Mike Babcock thinks the Red Wings will be more relaxed in Pittsburgh than they were at home Monday, saying they were extremely tense while falling behind 2-1 after two periods in Game 5.
The Red Wings encountered a similar snag during the Western Conference finals against Dallas, losing a potential series-clinching Game 5 at home before winning Game 6 on the road.
“I think being on the road is a great thing,” Babcock said. “We’ve closed out every series on the road. As far as any carryover from that, it’s a lesson learned. They’re good players and it won’t happen again.”
Hmm, almost sounds like a guaranteed win by Babcock.
“Sometimes, you need to be reminded,” he said.
CRITICAL CALLS: The Red Wings had not one but two debatable overtime penalties for goaltender interference in Game 5, by Henrik Zetterberg in the first overtime and Dan Cleary in the second. The Red Wings killed off both Penguins power plays.
Babcock didn’t want to be fined, and he initially tried to sidestep questions Tuesday about the calls. Finally, he said the players were simply driving to the net and shouldn’t have been penalized.
“I’ll jump on the soap box,” he said. “We talk about scoring more goals in the National Hockey League. We want more goals. No they don’t, don’t tell me that. I’ve never seen anything like that in my whole life.”
Asked if he planned a talk with the NHL about the calls, he said, “Just had it.”
The reference was to Penguins coach Michel Therrien repeatedly lobbying through the media for more obstruction penalties.
NOTES: While more than 13,000 fans paid US$5 each to watch Game 1 of the finals in Detroit on the Mellon Arena scoreboard in Pittsburgh, only about 3,000 did so Monday night. … Game 6 will be the first Stanley Cup finals elimination game played in Pittsburgh since the Penguins came into the NHL in 1967. The Penguins won their only two previous Stanley Cups on the road, in 1991 (Minnesota) and 1992 (Chicago). … Evgeni Malkin’s assist on Sykora’s game-winning goal was the first point of the series for the NHL’s No. 2 scorer during the season. … Penguins defenceman Brooks Orpik blocked 10 shots, or only four fewer than the entire Red Wings team.