NHL: Teams prepare for improbable Game 6 tonight
PITTSBURGH ó The Stanley Cup was out of its crate, getting one last polish.
The Detroit Red Wings had rallied, taken the lead and were only 35 seconds from hoisting that shiny prize. That’s when a player no one expected to be on the ice struck for the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Three overtimes later, with 23-year-old Marc-Andre Fleury stopping everything the Red Wings shot at him, a goal shortly before 1 a.m. Tuesday sent the series back to Pittsburgh ó and maybe put a shred of doubt into the minds of those in Hockeytown.
“Here we go again,” Red Wings forward Kris Draper said Tuesday after returning to Pittsburgh. “We would have loved to have been able to wrap things up, but that wasn’t the case. We’ve got another crack at it.
“We’re still up 3-2 in the series and we have another opportunity to close Pittsburgh out.”
After their 4-3 win prevented the Red Wings from winning a fourth NHL championship in 11 seasons, the Penguins hope to get the Igloo rocking tonight for Game 6.
Detroit was 34.3 seconds away from finishing off the Penguins on Monday night when Maxime Talbot came out of nowhere to score the tying goal. Fleury, who had already played an exceptional game, was on the bench for an extra attacker.
Surprisingly, that man was Talbot, who hadn’t served that role this season. Penguins coach Michel Therrien went with a hunch and it paid off.
On and on the game went. Most of the action was tilted toward the Penguins end, but Fleury played his own game of “Can you top this?” The goaltender made 24 saves after regulation ó four fewer than Red Wings counterpart Chris Osgood made in the entire game ó and an astounding 55 overall in the fifth-longest game in finals history.
When Petr Sykora’s goal finally ended it midway through the third time, scoring at a time when NBC should have been well into “Late Night With Conan O’Brien” on the East Coast, the tired and injured Penguins tried to muster up the energy to celebrate their survival and get ready for another elimination game.
“They kind of had it in their pocket, and it is going to be hard for them to get up for the game, too,” Sykora said. “The preparation is going to be the same for us.
“I can’t wait for tomorrow night because the building’s going to be really loud here.”
This is where Detroit can really rely on the experience it has built up not only as a championship-caliber club for the past decade, but also on recent postseason history.
The Red Wings finished each of their three previous series on the road, including the Western Conference against Dallas after falling at home in Game 5. Detroit’s 3-0 series lead quickly became 3-2 before it ended in six.
The Red Wings are faced with figuring out a way to avoid filling their heads with what-ifs. No team had ever been that close to winning the Cup and not done it.
“When you’re in the middle of everything, you don’t think about that,” said defenseman Nicklas Lidstrom, one win away from becoming the first European to captain a Cup winner. “It’s afterward when you realize we did have a great chance to win but we didn’t.
“You have to put that behind you and move on to the next game. It does stink right after when you had a chance, but that’s the beauty of sports. You have to be ready to play the next one again.”
Osgood has been praised throughout the series as being a guy who can shake off a bad goal or a bad loss and immediately face the next challenge. He joined a few of his teammates in meeting the media at a downtown hotel Tuesday and showed no signs he was particularly troubled.
The two-time champion goalie with the Wings rocked back in his chair as he listened to Kris Draper and Brian Rafalski answer questions. Rafalski, a two-time Cup winner with New Jersey, was set to be the star after his goal gave Detroit a 3-2 lead with 10:37 left in regulation.
It was that goal that had the Joe Louis Arena crowd chanting, “We want the Cup,” and they were on the verge of getting it, too.
“I wasn’t really aware that it was being wheeled out,” Osgood said. “I was more trying to focus on trying to keep it out of the net. You don’t really think about it at the time. Afterward, it might breeze through your mind a few times that you’re close. You can’t really do anything about it after.”
Now they again have to figure out how to shut down Penguins captain Sidney Crosby, who assisted on two of Pittsburgh’s four goals, and Evgeni Malkin, the enigmatic 21-year-old NHL MVP finalist who earned his first point of the series with a feed to Sykora for the winner 49:57 into overtime.
Fleury is certainly gaining confidence and Therrien says his club is getting better every game. The results suggest that could be true, even if the Red Wings’ dominant play at times says otherwise.
Pittsburgh has won two of the past three games in the series, despite being outscored 8-2 in the third period, and is 9-1 at home. The Penguins had only two shots in the third on Monday before Talbot put two on Osgood in scoring the tying goal.