Wings missed chance to clinch


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DETROIT -- With a little less than six minutes left in the third period, workers rushed down a large corridor of Joe Louis Arena pushing carts of champagne on ice.

Elsewhere in the bowels of the building, the Stanley Cup was receiving a final white-glove polish.

It was premature.

The champagne had to be put away. And no NHL players were going to touch the huge Cup just yet.

The Red Wings had a chance to clinch the championship at home in Game 5 of the final, but goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury and the Penguins thwarted that idea with a 4-3 win in the third overtime to pull within 3-2 in the series.

"He made some good saves," Detroit defenseman Brian Rafalski said of Fleury, who stopped 55 of 58 shots. "We had a lot of opportunities, a lot of shots. We just couldn't find that fourth one."

What looked like it might be something close to a runaway series with Detroit getting back-to-back shutouts in Games 1 and 2 here got a little tighter when the Penguins won Game 3 at Mellon Arena and then kept things close before falling in Game 4 at home.

In the moments after last night's marathon, the Red Wings didn't seem daunted by what could have been a loss heavy enough to deflate the players, the fans, the coaches, even the big purple octopus that hangs from the rafters.

"It's the Stanley Cup final," coach Mike Babcock said. "It's not supposed to be easy."

He wasn't worried about the physical toll on his players in the game or for the rest of the series.

"The hardest thing in a game like this is the mental part," Babcock said. "Your body can keep going."

The Red Wings get up to two more chances to wrap it up. Game 6 is tomorrow night at Mellon Arena. A Game 7 would be Saturday back at Joe Louis Arena.

The same scenario happened to Detroit in Game 5 of the Western Conference final, when Dallas carved out a 2-1 win here to force a Game 6. The Red Wings won that, 4-1.

Even though that one wasn't decided in a multiple-overtime game, Henrik Zetterberg said the team can draw on that experience.

"We've been here before," he said.

The Penguins scored twice in the first period -- one goal by Marian Hossa set up by Sidney Crosby and another credited to Adam Hall but actually put into his own net by Red Wings defenseman Niklas Kronwall.

"We started slow," Babcock said. "I thought we were really nervous. We never made a play in the first period, for whatever reason, whether that's focusing on outcome rather than just process and doing what you always do.

"You know, we really battled our way back. We had every opportunity."

Detroit got a second-period goal from rookie Darren Helm and third-period goals from Pavel Datsyuk and Rafalski to forge a 3-2 lead.

When it seemed the Red Wings were seconds away from lifting the Cup, the Penguins sent the game into marathon mode when Max Talbot scored with 34.3 seconds left in regulation.

"It's tough," Rafalski said of being so close to a clinching win only to go to overtime.

The Penguins became the first team in more than 70 years and just the second team ever to avoid elimination in the final by scoring a tying goal in the final minute of the third period.

The only other team to do it was Toronto in Game 3 of the 1936 final against Detroit.

The Red Wings led the best-of-five series, 2-0, and led the game, 3-2, when Toronto's Pep Kelly scored at 19:19 of the third period to tie it, 3-3.

The Maple Leafs went on to win the game in overtime, but lost the next game, and the series, to the Red Wings.

Detroit hopes to end up with a similar outcome this time.

"We have to be ready for the next one," defenseman Nicklas Lidstrom said. "It's not going to be easy. They're not going to give up."


Shelly Anderson can be reached at shanderson@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1721.


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