There would be no late-night salvation for the Penguins this time.
No unlikely heroes.
No epic comebacks.
Nothing but the emptiness of a 3-2 loss to Detroit in Game 6 of the Stanley Cup final last night, when the Penguins' season ended and the Red Wings celebrated the 11th championship in franchise history.
The Red Wings have won four Cups in the past 11 years. The others came in 1997, '98 and 2002.
Detroit's Henrik Zetterberg received the Conn Smythe Trophy, which goes to the most valuable player during the postseason.The Penguins, who had the second-worst record in the National Hockey League two seasons ago, made it to the Cup final for the first time since 1992.
Nonetheless, they likely will have a significantly different roster when they reconvene for training camp in September. Prominent contributors such as Marian Hossa, Ryan Malone and Brooks Orpik are eligible to become unrestricted free agents July 1 and figure to attract big-money offers from other teams.
The victory last night was Detroit's second in a row at Mellon Arena, where the Penguins had won their previous 17 games.
After a few nervous shifts at the start of the game, the Penguins settled down, but slipped into an early hole because of an interference minor defenseman Darryl Sydor picked up at 4:17 of the opening period.
Forty-six seconds after Sydor was sent off for getting his stick in the skates of Red Wings forward Kirk Maltby, Brian Rafalski beat Penguins goalie Marc-Andre Fleury with a wrist shot from near the left dot after taking a backhand feed from Henrik Zetterberg.
The Penguins had killed 19 of 21 Detroit power plays in the previous four games.
How important was it to get the first goal? Both teams entered Game 6 with 12-1 records when scoring it.
The Penguins had an opportunity to pull even when Dallas Drake and Kris Draper of Detroit were penalized in a span of 27 seconds as the middle of the period approached but failed to capitalize on 93 seconds of a two-man advantage.
Draper's penalty was for driving Penguins defenseman Sergei Gonchar, who had missed much of Game 5 with a back injury he got after going hard into the boards, into the boards from behind.
Detroit had a 9-8 edge in shots at the first intermission, at which time the most striking stat might have been that Penguins center Sidney Crosby -- who had won 49.75 percent of his draws in the playoffs before Game 6 -- was 1-8 on faceoffs.
Crosby left the ice doubled over little more than three minutes into the second, apparently the by-product of a hit by Red Wings defenseman Brad Stuart, and seemed to be in some discomfort on the bench, but returned to the ice at 6:22.
Fleury gave up a juicy rebound on a shot by Mikael Samuelsson a short time later, and paid dearly for it when Valtteri Filppula backhanded it between his legs at 8:07 to put Detroit in front, 2-0.
Filppula's goal put the Penguins in a desperate situation because Detroit is the most stingy defensive team in the NHL. Being forced to overcome a two-goal deficit against them, even at home, is daunting.
Nonetheless, the Penguins spoiled Detroit goalie Chris Osgood's bid for his third shutout of the series when Evgeni Malkin drove a shot between his legs from near the top of the left circle during a power play at 15:26.
The goal was Malkin's 10th of the playoffs but first in six games and netted assists for Crosby and Hossa.
Malkin was widely criticized for his lack of production during most of the final two rounds, but is believed to have suffered a significant injury, possibly to his shoulder, when he absorbed a crushing check from Philadelphia center Mike Richards during Game 1 of the Eastern Conference final.
The decline in Malkin's performance level and offensive production can be traced to that hit, although he did score a shorthanded goal seconds after Richards laid him out behind the Flyers' net.
While Malkin's goal revived the Penguins and the standing-room crowd of 17,132, the coup de grace was delivered at 7:36 of the third period.
Fleury stopped a Zetterberg shot from the left side, but the puck rattled around between his leg pads before coming to a stop in the crease. When Fleury tried to sit on it to get a stoppage in play, he inadvertently nudged it across the goal line to give Detroit the Cup-winning goal.
The Penguins made it 3-2 with a power-play goal at 18:33 as Hossa deflected a Gonchar shot past Osgood, but were unable to manufacture the goal that would have forced overtime, despite coming close in the waning seconds of regulation.
First Published June 5, 2008 4:00 AM