PITTSBURGH – The Stanley Cup was in the building, but the Pittsburgh Penguins made sure it was put back in its case.
It won’t be handed out until Friday night at Joe Louis Arena, when the Penguins and Detroit Red Wings will play a Game 7 to determine this season’s NHL champion. The storyline couldn’t really get much better. It’s either going to be a fifth championship in 13 years for the amazing Red Wings or a win that puts the resilient Penguins in the record book.
They’ve got a chance to become just the second team ever to bounce back after losing the first two games of a Stanley Cup final on the road. Even though Pittsburgh has appeared to be down and out more than once during this playoff run, it still finds itself one game away from glory.
“It’s an unbelievable opportunity,” captain Sidney Crosby said after Tuesday’s tight 2-1 victory. “We found a way to survive, that’s what we had to do tonight. And now it’s anyone’s game.”
He was held off the scoresheet for the fourth time in the series but was picked up by the energy line, which played solid all night and produced goals from Jordan Staal and Tyler Kennedy. Marc-Andre Fleury also delivered a clutch bounce-back performance by stopping 25 shots just three nights after getting pulled in Game 5.
Kris Draper replied for Detroit.
It was the exact same situation the teams found themselves in last June, but these Penguins are just a little older and wiser. They all remembered how devastating it was to see the Red Wings awarded the Stanley Cup at Mellon Arena.
“It was tough to see that last year,” said Staal. “We didn’t want that happening again.”
The Penguins survived a white-knuckle third period that saw Detroit pushing hard for the equalizer. Fleury refused to surrender that goal, stopping Dan Cleary on a breakaway in the final minutes before somehow staging a goal-line stand while Johan Franzen jammed at a loose puck.
Eventually, the buzzer sounded to send the series back to Motown.
“We’re still alive,” said Fleury. “We still have a chance at it.”
Commissioner Gary Bettman had flown across the continent from a court hearing in Phoenix just in case the trophy needed to be handed to Red Wings captain Nicklas Lidstrom after Game 6. The Stanley Cup was even taken out of its case and given a shine before getting packed back up for a return trip to Michigan.
While the Red Wings had hoped to be taking it home with them, they were already looking ahead to the opportunity that awaits.
“It’s going to be fun,” said Chris Osgood, who made 29 saves. “I mean it’s been a heck of a series. I think most people were saying it would go seven when it started. I’m disappointed that we didn’t win tonight, yeah, but you move on.
“We knew it was going to be a long tough series and we look forward to the next game. You’ve got to live in the moment, you can’t live in what just happened.”
The Red Wings can take plenty of solace in the fact that the home team has won every game in this series. They should also have all kinds of confidence after going 11-1 at Joe Louis Arena during these playoffs.
Detroit was expecting to face a desperate hockey team in Game 6 and that’s exactly what it got. The Penguins held a 21-8 shots advantage midway through the game and were a little unlucky not to have more than a 1-0 lead at that point.
They appeared to get some breathing room when Kennedy scored at 5:35 of the third period, but Draper responded with his first of the playoffs less than three minutes later.
As the Red Wings came on late, it gave some of the Penguins lesser lights a chance to take centre stage – there was defenceman Rob Scuderi sweeping the puck to safety during one power play and then blocking a shot late in the game.
“I think that’s the storyline of the playoffs,” said Penguins coach Dan Bylsma. “When your team can play well enough that different people can put on the cape on any given night. …
“When your team plays well enough long enough and you put yourself in those positions, different guys are going to be the heros.”
It remains to be seen who will emerge as the hero of this series.
Crosby, Fleury and Evgeni Malkin hope to be make their case for Pittsburgh while Pavel Datsyuk, Henrik Zetterberg and Marian Hossa will be looking to step up for Detroit.
Perhaps it will be one of the depth players who delivers a signature performance in a game that every hockey player everywhere has thought about. This game wasn’t even minutes old before the dreamers started looking ahead.
“All the street hockey I’ve played … you’re saying that it’s Stanley Cup final, Game 7,” said Penguins forward Max Talbot. “It’s every kid’s dream to be part of that game. We’re going to have the chance to be out there and play that game for real.
“The Cup’s going to be in the building – what team is going to win it? We don’t know, hopefully it’s going to be us. We’re going to do everything in our power to make it our Cup.”
Notes: It was 25 years to the day since Pittsburgh drafted Mario Lemieux … Staal played more minutes than Crosby … Lidstrom keeps climbing the all-time playoff games list – he’s now tied for fourth with Claude Lemieux at 234 … Teams hosting Game 6 of the Stanley Cup in a must-win situation now have a record of 10-14 … Osgood is now 11-5 in 17 Stanley Cup appearances … Guerin had five shots on goal in the first period … Announced attendance was 17,132 – the 118th consecutive sellout at Mellon Arena.