DETROIT – The Pittsburgh Penguins live to play another day because of a bloody lip and a sense of opportunism from a largely maligned player, but you have to think they’re now just a little more mature, a little more battle tested and a little more familiar with what it takes to win enormous, epic games.
Without a doubt, the Penguins should certainly have a lot more swagger in their step after they scratched and clawed their way to a 4-3 triple overtime win over the Detroit Red Wings in Game 5 of the Stanley Cup final to extend the series to Wednesday night.
In a game that disappointed only those who like their Jay Leno on time and those associated with the Detroit Red Wings, the Penguins most certainly proved to themselves and to the hockey world that they have some real fortitude and gumption to go along with all that youth.
“Basically, it’s just survival,” said Penguins superstar Sidney Crosby, who added two more assists in the game. “You’re just holding on for as long as you can.”
For much of a game in which they were outshot 58-32, the Penguins looked as though all they were doing was hanging on. But thanks to an enormous effort by goalie Marc-Andre Fleury and a power-play goal by Petr Sykora at the 9:57 mark of the third overtime, the Penguins stole a victory out of a building where they had failed to even score a goal in the first two games.
With less than a minute left and the Red Wings leading 3-2, Henrik Zetterberg failed to get the puck in deep and it cost the Red Wings dearly. Maxime Talbot scored with just less than 35 seconds remaining to tie the score and stun a sellout crowd that had only moments before watched on a monitor as Phil Pritchard, the keeper of the Cup, take Stanley out of its case and shine it up for the post-game presentation.
“I don’t know if I’ve ever seen that before, a team having the puck right there and the goalie pulled and having the Stanley Cup right there and not winning it,” said Penguins GM Ray Shero. “But we’ll take it, that’s for sure.”
Things certainly looked bleak for the Penguins when defenseman Sergei Gonchar went flying head-first into the boards in the second period and left the game with back spasms. He missed the first two overtimes and the longer the game went, the better his back began to feel. By the time the third overtime started, he was able to sit on the bench and when Jiri Hudler earned a double-minor for highsticking Rob Scuderi at 9:21 of the extra period, Gonchar declared himself fit to contribute and ended up contributing the second assist on Sykora’s goal.
“My back was pretty much tied up on me and I couldn’t breathe,” said Gonchar, who thinks he can play a regular shift in Game 6 in Pittsburgh Wednesday night. “You can’t move and you just hope you haven’t broken anything. At the beginning I thought I might have broken something and I was really kind of nervous about it, but then I started breathing a little better, I started feeling a little better, I started moving a little bit.”
It was a game rife with storylines, turning points and extraordinary action. For example, who would have thought that Talbot, essentially a plugger at the NHL level, would be the one Penguins’ coach Michel Therrien sent out for an extra attacker when the Penguins needed a goal in the worst way at the most crucial time of the season.
“I have to give the coach a lot of credit on that one,” Talbot said, “because how many times did I take the goalie to be the sixth man during the season? None. I guess (Therrien) thought something would happen. He said, ‘Max, take the goalie,’ and I said, ‘Huh?’ ”
Perhaps nobody came of age more on the Penguins than Fleury, who was at times spectacular for the Penguins. Dating back to his meltdown at the 2004 World Junior Championship, Fleury has carried the reputation of not being able to win a big game, one he went a long way toward eradicating with his 55-save effort in Game 5.
“I guess it worked out OK for me,” Fleury said with a smile. “But if I make one more save during the game then we don’t have to play all those overtimes.”
Ken Campbell, a senior writer for The Hockey News and a regular contributor to THN.com, was at Game 5 in Detroit. His blog normally appears Tuesdays and Fridays and his column, Campbell’s Cuts, appears Mondays.
For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, Subscribe to The Hockey News magazine.