Shawn P. Roarke | NHL.com Managing Editor
DETROIT -- The road to the 2009 Stanley Cup could not have been more difficult for the Pittsburgh Penguins. Then again, nobody said winning championships should be easy.
Nothing about Friday's Game 7 victory -- a 2-1 nail-biter against the defending champion Red Wings at Joe Louis Arena with the weight of history conspiring against the young Penguins -- was easy.
"I would have loved to do it in four (games), it would have been a lot easier on the nerves," said Pittsburgh's Sidney Crosby, the youngest captain to win the Stanley Cup. "It was so hard watching the clock tick down for that whole third period.
"But everything it took to win, we did it, you know. Blocking shots. Great goaltending. Different guys stepping up. I mean, we did exactly everything it takes to win. We're really happy with the result. We've been through a lot."
The Penguins have overcome obstacles throughout the playoffs, so there was no reason for Friday to be different.
Despite the fact that only one team in the history of the NHL had won a Game 7 on the road in the Stanley Cup Final after the home team in the series had won the first six games, the Penguins entered Friday's game full of confidence -- a swagger borne out of the fact that they had closed out each of their first three series on the road and had also escaped a 2-0 series deficit in a second-round upset of Washington in seven games.
"We heard all these stupid stats about how a team hadn't done 0-2 since 1971 or something and all these other Game 7 stats," defenseman Brooks Orpik told NHL.com "But I thought we just did a good job of blocking all that out and staying confident the whole series."
That confidence that served them well on Friday.
After a scoreless and somewhat tame first period, Pittsburgh took the lead early in the second on the first of Max Talbot's two goals. Talbot, in on the forecheck, was in perfect position to pounce on a turnover by Detroit defenseman Brad Stuart. Once he had the puck on his stick, he just ladled it between the leg pads of Detroit goalie Chris Osgood at 1:13.
Almost nine minutes later, Talbot struck again. This time, he pounced on chip pass by teammate Chris Kunitz to lead a 2-on-1 against Detroit defenseman Niklas Kronwall. Talbot eschewed the pass and fired a wrister from about 15 feet that zipped over Osgood's glove and nestled into the far corner.
"His nickname before this game was 'The Gamer' because he has a knack for playing so well in big games," Orpik said of Talbot. "Obviously, his heart is huge. He's going to do anything to win. These big games, he has the ability to just step up. A lot of that has to do with the tremendous character he has."
These Penguins were loaded with character, and it showed after they took the 2-0 lead.
With Crosby on the shelf after injuring his knee in a collision with Johan Franzen in the second, centers Evgeni Malkin, who was named the Conn Smythe Trophy winner, and Jordan Staal took on huge minutes. Players throughout the lineup pitched in by doing the little things that championship teams need to do; the little things that Detroit did last season to beat Pittsburgh in six games.
"I thought we played a full 60 minutes of our hockey," defenseman Rob Scuderi said. "If you could have drawn it up, it was about as perfect as it could go tonight."
But even with a perfect game, Detroit was still threatening at the end. Defenseman Jonathon Ericsson cut the lead in half when his knuckling shot eluded goalie Marc-Andre Fleury with 6:07 remaining in the game.
Then, with precious few seconds left and Osgood pulled for the extra attacker, Detroit had two final chances to force overtime and perhaps hold onto their title. First, Fleury robbed Henrik Zetterberg with a quick flick of his leg pad. Then, he scuttled across his crease and somehow got his blocker on a shot by Nicklas Lidstrom that seemed targeted at an open net.
"The save of the series," Orpik said.
And just like that, the Pittsburgh Penguins were Stanley Cup Champions, completing a 24-game journey that tested them in ways many of the players could never have imagined.
But when the journey was complete, when the players stood on the Joe Louis Arena ice celebrating a title they had dreamed about their entire lives, the pain of last year's loss to these Red Wings was a now-distant memory.
"I would have loved to do it in four (games), it would have been a lot easier on the nerves. It was so hard watching the clock tick down for that whole third period." -- Sidney Crosby"It's great after everything that happened last year," Scuderi told NHL.com "Going down 2-0 in this series and everybody is lining up and saying we didn't have much of a chance and it's just great to come back and finish it off on their ice after what happened last year."
Pittsburgh's Marc-Andre Fleury saved his best for last, denying Detroit's final frantic bid to force overtime. After Detroit won the final faceoff of the game, both Henrik Zetterberg and Nicklas Lidstrom had point-blank shots. Fleury stopped Zetterberg's shot with his leg pad and then lunged across the crease to get his blocker on a wrist shot by Lidstrom.
Pittsburgh defenseman Brooks Orpik was a physical menace throughout the game, sacrificing his body at every turn. Not only did he try to hit every Detroit player he came across, but he also threw his body in front of numerous shots. Orpik had five of the 20 blocked shots Pittsburgh recorded in the game.
Sidney Crosby exited the game at the 5:33 mark of the second period, but returned at the start of the third period. He did not make his first appearance of the period until the 9:36 mark and played just 32 seconds. Crosby injured his left leg after absorbing a clean, but hard, hit from Johan Franzen along the boards in the neutral zone. Crosby had trouble putting weight on the foot as he glided to the bench before hobbling painfully down the runway.
Max Talbot is only the ninth player to score two goals in Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final. Talbot's teammate Ruslan Fedotenko, then with the Tampa Bay Lightning, was the last player to do it, turning the trick in 2004 when the Lightning defeated Calgary.
The Pittsburgh Penguins weren't the only champions at Joe Louis Arena Friday night. Muhammad Ali, a three-time World Heavyweight Champion, watched the game from a luxury suite. He was joined in that suite by Thomas "Hit Man" Hearns, who won eight World Championships in six different boxing weight classes
--Shawn P. Roarke