Petr Sykora had gone eight games without a goal before Game 5 of the Stanley Cup final.
Perhaps, then, Sykora simply figured he was due.
Or maybe he actually did have a hunch he would be the guy who kept the Penguins' season alive.
Whatever the case, Sykora earned a niche in franchise lore by telling his teammates he would get the game-winner -- then doing just that at 9:57 of the third overtime to give the Penguins a 4-3 victory in Detroit and set up Game 6 against the Red Wings at 8:08 p.m. today at Mellon Arena.
"When a guy like that steps out and says, 'I think I've got one, guys,' you look at him and you hope he's saying the truth," said forward Max Talbot, whose goal with 34.3 seconds left in regulation gave Sykora the opportunity to be prophetic. "When it happens, you can't believe it. You're like, 'Oh, my God, he called for it.' "
Matchup: Detroit Red Wings at Penguins, 8:08 p.m. today, Mellon Arena.
Series: Red Wings, 3-2.
TV, radio: WPXI; WXDX-FM (105.9).
Probable goaltenders: Marc-Andre Fleury for Penguins. Chris Osgood for Red Wings.
Penguins: Lost Game 4 at home after winning 17 in row there. ... Three of RW Adam Hall's six career playoff goals have been game-winners. ... Own all-time record of 21-20 when facing elimination.
Red Wings: Have outscored Penguins, 8-2, in third period. ... Niklas Kronwall has tied franchise record for defensemen with 13 postseason assists. ... Have been outshot once in 21 playoff games.
Hidden stat: Detroit's three series-clinching victories this spring have come on road.
Turns out that Sykora wasn't necessarily as confident as he seemed, inasmuch as he finished the evening with one shot -- the one he took at 9:57 of the third overtime.
"I just kind of wanted to get a little looser," Sykora said yesterday.
"I didn't feel I was going to score, but just to get a little looser out there and make a comment like that, give the guys a little laugh in the locker room. And I'm not complaining that it worked."
Given how unproductive he had been, perhaps it's no surprise that Sykora was well-rested -- as well rested as anyone can be in a six-period game, anyway -- when he scored.
Sykora, a non-factor for most of the series, logged 21 minutes, 20 seconds of ice time in Game 5.
The only Penguins forwards with less playing time were Tyler Kennedy (20:53), Gary Roberts (17:42) and Jarkko Ruutu (12:51), the latter of whom came within millimeters of ending the game when he put a shot off the right post at 7:05 of the second overtime.
Of course, precedent suggests that Sykora isn't a bad guy to send out when a game stretches beyond regulation.
The game-winner was the third overtime goal of Sykora's playoff career; the rest of the Penguins have combined for two.
Peacock network strutting
The Penguins' thrilling Game 5 victory also was a must-see, smash-TV hit for NBC Monday night and Tuesday morning.
Nationally, the network's 4.3 overnight rating constituted a 79 percent increase over last year's Game 5 telecast and 87 percent over Saturday's Game 4 at Mellon Arena.
The Penguins' triple-overtime win also delivered the highest Game 5 rating since Carolina-Detroit (4.5) in 2002 and the best for any NHL game since NBC became the league's television partner in 2004.
In Pittsburgh, where Game 1 drew a 33 rating and Game 4 a 29, local viewers turned out in Steeleresque numbers: a 35.4 rating and 52 percent share of turned-on TVs. Detroit checked in with a 29.6 rating and 46 share.
Fleury combats octopus
Al Sobotka, the buildings operation manager and Zamboni driver at Joe Louis Arena, has gotten considerable attention over the years for picking up octopuses that fans there throw on the ice, then twirling them over his head.
Indeed, the league has mandated that he no longer do it on the ice, because the debris that flies off the octopus as it is spun can spray onto not only the playing surface, but also onto players who aren't a safe distance away.
Penguins goalie Marc-Andre Fleury decided to be proactive about protecting himself before Game 5, so when Sobotka began to twirl an octopus in the Zamboni entrance, Fleury did a little spraying of his own, turning his water bottle on Sobotka.
After volunteering yesterday that "I just missed my mouth by a little bit," Fleury acknowledged his actions.
"After the first two games, I thought I'd give him a little something back," he said. "And we won, so it's good."
Game 5 tidbits
• The Penguins are the second team in playoff history and the first since 1936 to avoid elimination in a Cup final by scoring a tying goal in the final minute of regulation. Toronto did it in Game 3 of a best-of-five championship round against Detroit, but lost the next game.
• Fleury's 55 saves were the most in a Cup final since June 11, 1998, when Washington's Olaf Kolzig stopped that many in a 5-4 overtime loss to the Red Wings in Game 1.
• The Penguins are the eighth team to win Game 5 on the road while trailing a series, 3-1.
• Road teams have won 10 of the past 12 overtime games during a Cup final and are 15-4 in overtime since 1990.
The Penguins returned Alex Goligoski, who has set a single-season American Hockey League playoff record for points by a defenseman with 26, to their minor-league team in Wilkes-Barre. ... Penguins defenseman Darryl Sydor isn't just making a fashion statement these days when he wears the Stanley Cup rings he won in 1999 and 2004. "I've always worn my rings in the playoffs," he said. "Just kind of reminds me of how hard it is to try and get these." ... Neither team practiced yesterday.
Chuck Finder contributed to this report. First Published June 4, 2008 4:00 AM