It was supposed to be a celebration. The Red Wings win the Stanley Cup on their home ice. And as the seconds ticked away, the Cup loomed closer and closer.
Then Max Talbot banged in a rebound. Before either team knew it, the celebration had become a marathon.
With that goal, the Penguins tied the game at 3 apiece, sending the game to overtime.
It had been a back and forth game all night, with neither team taking a clear advantage. The Penguins got on the board first, with a Marian Hossa goal , then with another from Adam Hall. 2-0 after 20.
But the Wings rallied back, scoring three unanswered goals, one in the second and two in the third. It was their usual suspects: Datsyuk tied the game up, Brian Rafalski put them ahead. 3-2 for Detroit as the game entered it’s final minute.
Pittsburgh pulled their goalie, always a risky gamble. Two years ago, it backfired on the Edmonton Oilers in game seven – Carolina solidified their lead late and won, 3-1. This time, however, it worked: Max Talbot tied the game at 19:25.
In overtime, Penguins goalie Marc-Andre Fleury seemed to stand on his head. At least four times, he made gigantic saves that kept the Penguins season alive.
But he had been for the whole game, when he faced 34 shots through the first 60 minutes.
Overtime was something else, though. A microcosm of the game, albeit reversed, it started with Detroit keeping the pressure on Fleury. About halfway though, they led in shots, six to one. But as the period continued, Pittsburgh moved to the offensive, but with little success.
Perhaps their age betrayed them. They couldn’t find an open look, their two-on-ones were too slow, they couldn’t get through the formidable Detroit defence. Before long, the shots had nearly been doubled, 10 to two.
As the overtime wind down, the Penguins looked out of gas. With under three minutes to play, Detroit had a great chance. Franzen and Zetterberg crashed the net, forcing Fleury to make a sprawling save, lying down on his side.
A break, however, came the Penguins way: an interference call against Zetterberg on that scramble. But even then, they couldn’t capitalize – the penalty passed harmlessly and Detroit had another great scoring chance, a rush after a Jordan Staal turnover. That was it for the first overtime, though.
The second OT began with a bang – about five minutes in, the Red Wings took another penalty. Here the Penguins went on the offsenive, and got some of their best chances of the night. But – again – they didn’t score.
Later on, both sides found themselves with more chances. Ruutu had a great chance, but Osgood shut him out.
Given enough time, any two teams in the Finals will even themselves out. As the game neared the 90 minute mark, faceoffs were about even for both. The score had remained stagnant for the longest time all game. Tempers ran short, and both sides began to tire.
Instead of a constant rush, the Wings were making more and more odd-man rushes, like the one where Kris Draper leveled a backhand at Fleury (he made the save). Or the one where Datsyk couldn’t deke his man on a one-on-one.
Increasingly, the puck began to spend more time in Detroit’s end – experience goes a long way in the playoffs, but the younger team tires more slowly, I guess. But at the same time, action had slowed down considerably too.
But after a Detroit rush – the highlight of which was a shot that bounced high and nearly into the net – Pittsburgh took a penalty with just over two minutes left, their first in sudden death. Detroit kept the pressure on and played with a renewed intensity. But again, not enough.
Third overtime, now. One game becames two. And still, Detroit pressed the Penguins, keeping them in their own end.
Their aggressiveness would be their undoing, though. Another penalty, a four-minute double minor on Juri Hudler for high-sticking, 9:21 into the third overtime.
Three times the charm, for the Penguins. Petr Sykora netted his sixth of the playoffs from the right circle, not even a minute after that penalty.
The Penguins are still alive, and will go back home to the Mellon for game six. Do they have a chance? I doubt it.
The main thing – and perhaps the only thing – that kept them alive throughout this game was the stellar play of Fleury. He made key saves throughout nearly 50 minutes of sudden death overtime, not to mention the 60 minutes of regulation.
All in all, he made 55 saves in game five. Say that again, out loud – fifty five saves. Twenty four of those were in sudden death, where a Detroit goal would end their season.
That’s nearly double was Osgood faced, who didn’t have as much pressure on him. Pressure to keep his team alive, pressure from the Red Wings, who outshot the Penguins in every period last night.
That means that Fleury was on the ice for almost 110 minutes last night. Not standing, but sprawling, scrambling to keep the puck out.
It was a singular preformnce in goaltending last night, the perfect cap to one of the best matchups the Finals have had in a long time.
To me, it was like game six of the 1980 finals, when Bob Nystrom won the first of four Islander Cups with an overtime goal.
That was the start of their dynasty. Was this the start of the Penguins?