Shawn P. Roarke | NHL.com Managing Editor
PITTSBURGH -- Before Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Final, Detroit's Dan Cleary spoke about how difficult it is to close out a team with the Cup on the line, mainly because the team on the brink of elimination doesn't want to go quietly into a season of regrets.
Later Tuesday night, the Pittsburgh Penguins proved Cleary to be prescient, playing their most workmanlike, most disciplined and most gritty game of this best of-7 series.
The result was a 2-1 victory for Pittsburgh, a result that put the Stanley Cup back in its traveling case and forced a winner-take-all Game 7 Friday night in Detroit (8 p.m. ET, NBC, CBC, RDS). The Red Wings had clinched the Cup here last season with a 3-2 victory in Game 6.
"I thought they were better than us, though, at the start of the game; probably, for the first almost 32 minutes," Detroit coach Mike Babcock said. "They won more races and more battles, had more play, were on top of us more, and they kept us to the outside.
"I thought we started to build some momentum at the end of the second period, and then obviously we had a good third period."
But by then, Detroit was fighting an uphill battle. Jordan Staal had given Pittsburgh a 1-0 lead in the first minute of the second period. Then Tyler Kennedy scored a solo-effort goal in the sixth minute of the third period.
Kris Draper, with his first point of the playoffs, cut the lead to 2-1; but thanks to the brilliance of goalie Marc-Andre Fleury, Detroit could not get the equalizer.
"Everybody did a good job sacrificing," is how defenseman Brooks Orpik described the season-extending victory.
"We won the battles, getting the stick on the puck, all the little things," fellow defenseman Hal Gill told NHL.com. "That makes the game a little easier. You don't think about the big things. You take the little things and go step by step."
The list of heroes for the Penguins on Tuesday night was exhaustive and aided by a sliver of luck.
Fleury turned in perhaps his best game of the Final just 72 hours after allowing five goals on 21 shots in Game 5's desultory 5-0 loss.
"He's a guy who has come up big in a lot of big games," Pittsburgh coach Dan Bylsma said. "There were a handful of times he came up big for us tonight."
Fleury made only three saves in the first period, but two were on point-blank shots by Detroit sniper Henrik Zetterberg. In the game's final two minutes Fleury denied Dan Cleary on a breakaway.
And when Fleury couldn't get in front of a shot, one of his teammates did. Pittsburgh finished the game with 20 blocked shots.
None, though, was as memorable as the kick save by Rob Scuderi with 14 seconds left in the game as Johan Franzen tried to score from the low slot. Scuderi got the initial attempt with his leg pad and then appeared to make a second save with the boot portion of his skate before Fleury smothered the puck.
"I'm more of a stand-up goalie, not a butterfly," Scuderi said, a trickle of blood curling down his face from a small gash on his right eyebrow. "They are outnumbering us in front of the net and at that point it is kind of tough to just take the man. I just tried to go down and hope that it hit and I'm pretty fortunate it did."
It was the gritty one-on-one battles -- like blocking shots -- which defined Pittsburgh's victory.
On Staal's goal, the big forward made a safe play to get the puck out of the zone before beating Detroit defenseman Jonathan Ericsson to the puck to key the 2-on-1. Then, Staal didn't quit on the play, reaching back to slam home his own rebound after Chris Osgood made the initial save.
On the game-winning goal, Kennedy made a play out of nothing to jam home a shot from in tight. But for that to happen, Matt Cooke had to beat Nicklas Lidstrom to a loose puck on the half board, then Max Talbot had to rim a pass behind the net as two defenders converged on him before Kennedy could curl around and stuff home his shot.
"It helped us out a little bit, getting that two-goal lead," Kennedy said. "You have to build as big a lead as you can on those guys because they have a lot of offensive players and are a good team."
"We won the battles, getting the stick on the puck, all the little things. That makes the game a little easier. You don't think about the big things. You take the little things and go step by step." -- Hal Gill on Game 6Not only did Staal and Kennedy score the Pittsburgh goals, but they also did the majority of the defensive work necessary to keep the Zetterberg-Cleary-Pavel Datsyuk unit off the scoresheet. The Pittsburgh checking line, which also includes Cooke, took the majority of the shifts against Detroit's top line, freeing the Sidney Crosby unit for other duties.
"Offense starts in the defensive zone," Kennedy said, "and I thought we played well in the defensive zone tonight. We're trying to keep the puck out of our end and keep it in their end."
By doing that, and all the other little things right, Kennedy and Staal were named as the game's second and third stars, respectively, behind Fleury.
"I think that's the story line of the playoffs, when your team can play well enough that different people can put on the cape on any given night," Bylsma said. "When your team plays well enough long enough and you put yourself in those positions, different guys are going to be the heroes. Tonight it was TK, and Jordan was also a huge part of that."
Pittsburgh's Jordan Staal would not be denied on his first shift of the second period. First, he alleviated some Detroit pressure by chipping the puck off the wall and across the blue line. Instead of exhaling, Staal danced past a pinching Jonathon Ericsson to reclaim the puck and key a 2-on-1, joined by Tyler Kennedy. Staal kept the puck, shooting on Chris Osgood, who made the save with his mask. Refusing to be denied, Staal then grabbed the rebound and tucked it past Osgood.
Detroit goalie Chris Osgood kept his team in the game, despite a huge territorial advantage by the desperate Penguins, making some brilliant saves in the first 40 minutes, including a lightning-fast glove save against Bill Guerin in the first and a one-timer off the stick of Ruslan Fedotenko in the second.
Marc-Andre Fleury may have made only three saves in the first period, but none of them was easy. In fact, the two against Henrik Zetterberg in that period -- 14 minutes and 58 seconds apart -- were likely his two best of the night. Each time, Zetterberg was all alone in a prime scoring area, only to be denied by Fleury.
Kris Draper's goal at 8:01 of the third period was Draper's goal and first point of these playoffs. The goal, a rebound lofted past the sprawling Marc-Andre Fleury, cut Pittsburgh's lead to 2-1. Game 6 was just Draper's seventh game of the playoffs and just third of the Final.
Pittsburgh decided to shake up its lineup with its season on the line. Petr Sykora was inserted to provide some offense. But his biggest contribution might have come on the defensive side of the puck when, in the second period, he blocked a point shot from Kris Draper by diving to the ice and then having the wherewithal to push the puck out of the zone while prone on the ice. Sykora took the place of Miroslav Satan.