PITTSBURGH - So this is what all the fuss was about.
"Now that was a great hockey game," said Pittsburgh Penguins forward Maxime Talbot. "That's what you guys wanted and we gave it to you guys," he added with a laugh. "All you had to do is ask." The 2008 Stanley Cup final finally lived up to its pre-series hype Wednesday night and delivered a breathtaking display of skill, talent and big hits in Pittsburgh's 3-2 win over Detroit.
"What a great game," said Penguins defenceman Ryan Whitney. "And what a great game for the fans. That was just a lot of fun to play in."
After the Red Wings stifled the Penguins in back-to-back shutout victories in the opening two games, the series was beginning to look like a dud. And even if it's just for one night, what a night it was. This was the skill on skill battle many pundits had predicted before the final. Two teams loaded with offensive weapons.
"Yeah, that's one I'm sure as fans enjoyed to watch," said Penguins superstar Sidney Crosby, who provided much of the magic with a two-goal night. "Coaches probably cringe when they see a game like that.
"But that's the style of players, I guess, from both teams."
Crosby and linemate Marian Hossa found each other with dazzling passes. Wings forward Johan Franzen had the goal of the night when he deked past Rob Scuderi and roofed it from in-close on Marc-Andre Fleury. Penguins winger Gary Roberts crushed a few Wings with big hits. There was a bit of everything. And not a dull moment.
"There's a lot of skill on both sides, and you have to expect some nice plays and some good opportunities," said Crosby. "In the first two games they did a good job really shutting things down. This one was a little more open. And we tried to play well defensively, but they're going to get their chances, too.
"So it was definitely a back and forth game, fun to watch."
The Penguins would have taken a boring, defensive affair as long as they got the win. They didn't care how they got it.
"But yes, it was exciting for us to be part of," said Talbot. "When I look at the tape it'll be even bigger for me. But when you're playing in the game, you're just thinking about winning. There was a lot of energy, the crowd was in it, it was a great hockey game.
"That's what the fans were waiting for."
Perhaps just as important, the NHL avoided having yet another 3-0 lead in a playoff series. Dating back to the second round of the playoffs this year, five of the past six series featured 3-0 leads, including both conference finals. That kills the interest in the series given the unlikelihood of a comeback. It hasn't happened in the NHL in 33 years.
Instead, the Cup final is a series again.
"We're one game away from tying the Stanley Cup final after a lot of you guys counted us dead," said Whitney.
A lot of people had also counted out seeing great hockey. They were wrong.