DETROIT – The Pittsburgh Penguins remain in the hunt for the Stanley Cup after winning one of the most sensational games in NHL championship series history Monday night.
Petr Sykora’s goal 9:57 into the third overtime period lifted the Penguins to a 4-3 win over Detroit, extending the Stanley Cup final by at least one more game.
This one had everything – great goaltending by Marc-Andre Fleury, a last-minute goal by Maxime Talbot to force sudden death, the return for the winning play of injured defenceman Sergei Gonchar after he’d undressed during the first overtime, and a brash proclamation by Sykora, who predicted he’d score the winning goal – and did just that.
Oh, for an added touch, Evgeni Malkin, who assisted on the winner, had his sweater number 71 duplicated in a 7171 ticket that won a lottery in Pennsylvania just before game time. It was a good omen. The slumping Malkin set up the winning goal.
The Penguins got a big break, too, after Marian Hossa opened the scoring. Detroit defenceman Niklas Kronwall fired the puck into his own net to give Pittsburgh a 2-0 lead in the first period.
“That was probably one of the best games (in) a long time,” said Pens coach Michel Therrien. “We saw some quality hockey from both teams.”
Two exhausted hockey teams pick up sticks again in Pittsburgh on Wednesday (8 p.m. ET).
The Red Wings reluctantly packed their bags after having their series lead shaved to 3-2.
“We’ve got to ask ourselves how bad we want to win,” said coach Mike Babcock.
The fifth-longest game in NHL championship series history took 4 1-2 hours to complete. It started on Monday and ended on Tuesday when Sykora planted the puck in a top corner of the Detroit net. He’d eaten a piece of pizza during the intermission after daring to tell TV interviewer Pierre Maguire that he’d provide the winning shot.
“I got a great pass from Gino and I just tried to put it upstairs and it went in,” said Sykora. “Nothing had been going right for me this series so it was nice to get a winner like that.
“We get to play another day.”
There was an eruption of laughter in an interview room after Sykora was asked what kind of pizza he snacked on.
“Domino’s,” he said.
Red Wings owner Mike Ilitch owns rival chain Little Caesars.
Darren Helm started Detroit’s comeback with a second-period goal, and third-period goals by Pavel Datsyuk and Brian Rafalski put the Red Wings up 3-2.
With a minute left, most fans in the capacity crowd of 20,000 in sweltering Joe Louis Arena were preparing for a celebration of the Wings’ fourth title in 11 seasons, and 11th in franchise history.
Talbot spoiled the part by banging in his own rebound at the side of Chris Osgood’s crease with 35 seconds left in regulation and with Fleury on the bench in favour of a sixth skater. Talbot steered all the praise Fleury’s way.
“Flower was great,” he said while sitting in his dressing room stall. “He’s the reason why we’re still alive and I’m smiling right now.”
Detroit outshot Pittsburgh 34-18 during regulation and 13-2 during the first overtime. Talbot said he felt the momentum swing his team’s way during the second overtime. He was right. The Pens had a 8-7 shots edge and shots were 4-4 in the third overtime.
Fleury’s most amazing save was off Mikael Samuelsson late in the second period. He stuck out his left foot to keep the Swede from finishing off a 2-on-1 rush.
“You win as a team and lose as a team and I just tried to do my job,” he said after stripping off his sweat-soaked pads.
It was on that play that Gonchar slid into the boards, banging his head. He played only two shifts in the third period and wasn’t seen again. Hal Gill assumed extra ice time as the Pens tried to go the distance with only five defencemen.
“It says a lot about the guys in the room,” Fleury said of his teammates’ ability to adapt to the absence of their best defenceman.
Then, after Jiri Hudler was assessed a double minor penalty for high-sticking Rob Scuderi at 9:21 of the sixth period, Gonchar miraculously reappeared to play the point on the power play.
“I wondered what he was doing on the ice,” said Talbot. “He was completely undressed in between periods.
“There was a power play and the game was on the line and he comes back. The guys on the bench got pumped up. When he stepped onto the ice, I knew something special was going to happen, and it did.”
Sykora thought he might become the goat when he took a hooking penalty at 17:44 of the second overtime. Instead, he emerged the hero.
It was a terrific team effort by a team giving its all to avoid elimination.
“We stayed really focused,” said Talbot. “People talk about their experience and our youth but we showed a lot of composure and when the game was on the line we got it done.
“Yes, we’re happy, but now it’s on to Game 6.”
Detroit captain Nick Lidstrom said he never expected the Pens to go easily.
“They’re not going to give up,” said Lidstrom. “We saw that tonight.”
Rafalski offered some historical perspective. When he played for New Jersey eight years ago, the Devils lost to Dallas in triple overtime in the final.
“We went back in their building and won it,” Rafalski said. “It’s not the end of the road for us because we lost this game.
“There’s two games left. We get another chance on Wednesday.”
Pittsburgh is attempting to become the second team in league history to win the Stanley Cup after losing the first two games of a championship series on the road. Of 31 teams in a similar situation in years past, only the 1970-71 Montreal Canadiens emerged victorious.
Notes: Penguins forward Ryan Malone had stitches holding together the bottom of his nose after being struck by a Gill shot in the second period. It was his fourth broken nose. Kronwall realigned it in Game 1. “I’ve got a fracture maybe but I can breathe so I’ll be all right,” he said in insisting he’ll play Game 6. … Both teams finished 1-for-5 on power plays. … It was only Detroit’s second loss in 11 home games during the playoffs. … Detroit had a 44-25 hits advantage. … Pittsburgh players blocked 31 shots compared to 12 by Red Wings. … The Red Wings dominated faceoff circles at home in shutting out the Penguins in the first two games but they had only a slight edge, 53 per cent to 47 per cent, in Game 5. … Four octopi were shovelled off the ice before the first drop of the puck. … Five Red Wings – Lidstrom, Kris Draper of Toronto, Kirk Maltby of Cambridge, Ont., Swede Tomas Holmstrom and Darren McCarty of Burnaby, B.C. – were on the 1997, 1998 and 2002 title teams. … Babcock is attempting to join Jean Perron and Mike Keenan as the only coaches to win both the Stanley Cup and the championship trophy of Canadian Interuniversity Sport. Babcock’s Lethbridge Pronghorns won the University Cup in 1993-94. … Detroit D Chris Chelios, 46, hasn’t played since Game 5 of the conference final but he says being benched hasn’t changed his mind about returning for at least one more season.