Penguins, Red Wings, head to winner-take-all Game 7 in Detroit
The Penguins' Tyler Kennedy, right, is congratulated by teammates Max Talbot and Ruslan Fedotenko after his third-period goal in Pittsburgh's 2-1 win over the Detroit Red Wings in Game 6 of the Stanley Cup final last night at Mellon Arena.
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Printed in chalk on an exposed steel beam of the new arena, courtesy of Ironworkers Local 3, is the phrase Badger Bob Johnson made popular when the Penguins won their first title: "It's A Great Day For Hockey."
The night was rather grand, too, for the Penguins. Get ready for a winner-take-all Game 7 on Friday in Detroit.
Jordan Staal and Tyler Kennedy banged home goals in a dramatic 2-1 win last night, and Marc-Andre Fleury earned honors as the game's top star by stopping 25 of 26 shots as the Penguins staved off elimination.
"We realize how much it takes to get here. This is a chance we can't waste," said the Penguins' goalie, who has ridden a roller coaster of emotions from the hottest spot on the ice.
Flower Power was never more apparent or more necessary in saving a season. His heart-stopping denial of Dan Cleary on a breakaway with less than two minutes to play was the hockey equivalent of a goal-line stand.
Beginning with the first pre-season game, this has been a grueling, eight-month march under hostile circumstances. After 82 games, three playoff rounds and 360 minutes of play in the championship round, everything is all square. Barring overtime, it comes down to 60 minutes at Joe Louis Arena.
A remarkable confluence of events is in the air.
While Game 7 is being played in Detroit, the Detroit Tigers will be at PNC Park that day for an interleague series against the Pirates.
A century ago, teams from Pittsburgh and Detroit locked horns in a classic World Series that pitted Honus Wagner against Ty Cobb. The Pirates beat the Tigers in a seventh game played in Detroit.
Game 6 of the Stanley Cup final was played on a sultry day that marked the 25th anniversary of the drafting of Mario Lemieux, Nombre Soixante-six. With the Penguins teetering on the brink of elimination, any positive sign was welcome.
If noise generates energy, the Penguins got the power boost they needed from a raucous crowd. Although there was no danger of the stainless steel roof being blown off by the roar, the noise reached remarkable levels in the Igloo, just as they have the whole series.
"I thought Game 3 was the loudest I've ever heard it as far as being sustained and coming in waves. But Game 4 was louder, and last night was off the charts," said David Paletta of Carnegie, who has purchased season tickets since 1995.
No matter what, Game 6 was the last NHL game at Mellon Arena this season. The ice will melt, but emptiness of losing would have hung on for a long, long time. The Penguins finished 9-2 at home in these playoffs.
As badly as the Penguins want to win the Stanley Cup, they blanched at the possibility of seeing the red-clad Wings hoist the Stanley Cup on their ice for the second straight year.
Tradition demands that the losers line up to shake the hands of champions. What nobody wanted to feel was the devastation of seeing someone in an opposing sweater fulfill their dream while reducing yours to ashes.
"Sometimes, fear is a weapon," said 38-year-old Billy Guerin, who is the same age as his coach.
That the Penguins got goals from their third line is a testament to their depth and underscores the importance of contributions through the lineup.
"It takes everybody to get results," said Sidney Crosby. "These are the games where we all need to find a way to find that extra level."
Gunning for its second straight crown and fifth NHL title in 12 years, Detroit calls itself Hockeytown. The reigning kings will not let go easily, and it will take a worthy champion to pry their grip from the 35-pound chalice made of silver and nickel alloy.
No team has repeated since the 1997-98 Wings under Scotty Bowman.
There was no evidence of an emotional hangover as the Penguins rebounded from a 5-0 spanking in Game 5. The thing about hockey, though, is that the momentum can shift faster in a game or in a series than in any other sport.
"It's always about rebounding. It's about finding more energy. It's about digging down as individuals and as teams. Winning teams do that," said coach Dan Bylsma, who four months ago was plying his trade in the minor leagues.
"There are times when this team had a chance to buckle and didn't. We were down three goals in Philly in the first round in Game 6. We did not buckle. We were challenged by a good Washington team that was playing very well, and their stars were playing exceptional, and we didn't buckle. And we played a strong series (against) a good Carolina team that was playing great hockey," he added.
The Stanley Cup, the oldest trophy competed for by professional athletes, is the hardest trophy to win in sports. It was on hand in the arena last night under the care of its keeper, but it goes back into its traveling trunk for one last trip to Detroit.
The Cup was first presented 116 years ago in the name of Lord Stanley of Preston. The winners get to lift it right on the ice, and they sacrifice everything they have to get their names engraved on it.
"It's hard to win, and that's what makes it so great," said Detroit coach Mike Babcock.
With the home team having won every game of the series thus far, the Wings won't be lacking for confidence on their ice.
"We just believe in ourselves. We believe we have the game and experience and the skill level, and the drive to get the job done," Babcock added.
But the Penguins have already won a seventh game on the road in these playoffs. They eliminated the Capitals in Washington in the second round.
Detroit's Kris Draper scored his first goal of the final to make in a one-goal game in the third period. He already has his name on the Cup four times, and he's not at all satisfied.
"You can never have it on enough," Draper said. "Getting this far, getting to this point, I will never, ever take for granted. It's that special. We know that in any series, the fourth one is always the toughest one to win."
In one of the most closely followed subplots of the series, Marian Hossa remains without a goal. He was wearing black and gold in last year's final, but as a free agent, he elected to sign a one-year deal with the Wings because he thought he had the best chance to win his first championship ring with Detroit.
"I made a decision and I hope it's the right one," Hossa said.
Now it all comes down to Friday: two teams, one winner.
First Published June 10, 2009 12:00 am