|Petr Sykora could not have picked a better moment to score his first goal of the Stanley Cup Final. The veteran winger lit the lamp at 9:57 of the third overtime to help the Pittsburgh Penguins keep their Stanley Cup dreams alive with a thrilling 4-3 victory over the Detroit Red Wings.
One of the things that made Ruth, the Sultan of Swat, so famous is the lure of his called shot in the 1932 World Series. In Game 3 against the Chicago Cubs, the Yankee slugger allegedly pointed to dead center field -- calling his shot, so to speak -- before hitting a homer to that very spot, a prodigious shot that became one of the most famous moments in baseball history.
Monday, in Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Final, Petr Sykora called his own shot. This one, at 9:57 of the third overtime, ended up being the game-winner in Pittsburgh's 4-3 victory, a win that extends the series to Game 6 Wednesday in Pittsburgh (8 p.m. ET, NBC, CBC, RDS, NHL Radio) and also ended the fifth-longest Final game in Stanley Cup history.
Detroit still leads the 2008 Final, three games to two. But the Wings lost the opportunity to clinch before a jubilant home crowd when Sykora -- in the faceoff circle to the left of the Detroit goal -- took a centering feed from Evgeni Malkin and ripped a wrist shot that beat Detroit goalie Chris Osgood to the short side during a four-minute power play.
Detroit's Jiri Hudler was in the box for clipping Rob Scuderi with a high stick.
"He called it," said teammate Maxime Talbot. "He called it in between periods and said he was going to score it and he stepped up and put it top shelf. It's definitely a huge goal. He's got character, he wanted it and he's a hero tonight.
"It's a good story for you guys, huh?"
It's a great story, a fairy tale that Sykora could not lessen with his half-denial of calling his shot.
"And about the shot, just between the periods, something stupid I said, just 'Guys, I'm just going to get one, so just don't worry about the game. I'm going to get a goal,'" Sykora said.
When you have a proven track record, you can say things like that, even when you are struggling.
Sykora was demoted to the fourth line during parts of Game 5, punished for his inability to create anything offensively in the first four games. He was filleted in the media for his perceived lack of effort.
Yet, his teammates took him seriously when he called his shot. Defenseman Hal Gill said it gave the whole room a lift as the team waited to take the ice.
"Everyone was hooting and hollering," said Gill.
Even Detroit coach Mike Babcock knew better than to count out Sykora. Babcock coached Sykora in 2003 when both were with Anaheim, a team that lost a seven-game series to the New Jersey Devils in the Final. In an earlier round, Sykora scored a game-winning goal in the fifth OT of a second-round game against the Dallas Stars.
"Yeah, I totally remember that game," said Sykora. "It was in fifth overtime. It was kind of a similar game. Nothing was really going for me. I didn't think I had a scoring chance until the goal I scored. It was kind of similar to tonight. The puck was going away from me, didn't really get a shot on net until like the second overtime."
But that is the knack that goal scorers have. And Sykora is nothing, if not a goal scorer. He has 32 goals in 107 playoff games. He now has nine game-winners among that total.
That's why Babcock likely grimaced when he saw Malkin feather a crisp pass to Sykora, unguarded at the faceoff dot.
"I hate to see Petr Sykora get that puck late," Babcock said afterward. "You just know it's going in. He's that kind of guy. He won a game for me like that in Dallas in five overtimes. So Petr has that ability to score."