-- The Detroit Red Wings
were 34.3 seconds away from a magnificent celebration. They were 34.3 seconds away from their fourth Stanley Cup in 11 seasons, as they held a 3-2 lead on the Pittsburgh Penguins
And then Maxime Talbot crashed the party.
Talbot evened the score with Pittsburgh's first goal of this entire campaign with the extra attacker, then Petr Sykora scored with 10:03 remaining in triple overtime as the Red Wings failed to close out the Stanley Cup Final in a dramatic 4-3 loss to the Pens at Joe Louis Arena on Monday night.
It was a crushing blow for the Wings, who must now head back to Pittsburgh for a Game 6 Wednesday night (8 p.m. ET, NBC, CBC, RDS, NHL Radio). While Detroit was able to manage a split in Games 3 and 4 at Mellon Arena, there's little doubt that the fans in the Steel City will be roaring well before the opening faceoff.
"Every game has been a hard-fought game, and this game was the same way," Red Wings captain Nicklas Lidstrom said. "We had a chance in the third period. We put ourselves in this situation, and now we have to respond."
The Pens certainly responded Monday night, as they jumped out to a 2-0 lead before the Wings rallied with three unanswered goals. Rookie Darren Helm got the Wings on the right track 2:54 into the second period before Pavel Datsyuk and Brian Rafalski scored less than three minutes apart in the third to put Detroit in front.
Chants of "We want the Cup!" began shortly after Rafalski's go-ahead tally and continued until Talbot silenced the capacity crowd in the final minute.
Truth be told, the Red Wings controlled the tempo for much of the evening. Detroit out-shot Pittsburgh 58-32 (it was 14-4 in the third period), but Marc-Andre Fleury's 55 saves were the most in the Stanley Cup Final since Washington's Olaf Kolzig made the same amount back in 1998, also against the Wings.
"We had every opportunity to win the game, obviously," Detroit coach Mike Babcock said. "We had such a great third period. We just have to ask ourselves, 'How bad do we want to win?' I think the resolve of this group is real good. I think the determination is real good. It's not like we didn't have every opportunity. I believe when you do good things, good things happen."
Unlike the first two games of this series in Detroit, the Red Wings got off to an awfully slow start. The nerves came full circle when defenseman Niklas Kronwall put a rebound into his own end on a goal that was credited to Pittsburgh's Adam Hall 14:41 into the first period.
Kronwall, one of the few Detroit players who spoke with the media after the game, admitted the Red Wings suffered from the jitters during the opening period.
"We need to have a better start," Kronwall said. "We were a little too nervous out there. We were waiting around, standing around too much. We can't have that happening. We can't start playing the game (when it's) 2-0, so we need a better start for sure. We need to execute on chances."
The Red Wings were handed a golden opportunity to win the championship late in double overtime, when Sykora was sent to the penalty box after hooking Kronwall. But the Penguins survived, and capitalized on their opportunity in triple overtime when they were handed a four-minute power play thanks to Jiri Hudler's high stick on Pittsburgh defenseman Rob Scuderi. Sykora took a pass from Evgeni Malkin and fired a wrist shot from the right circle past Chris Osgood, who did not speak with reporters after the game.
"I think the hardest part in a game like this is the mental part," Babcock said. "It's not the physical part. The mind drives the body. Your body can keep going. I think it's natural to feel bad for us for a bit, and feel bad for yourself. But it's the Stanley Cup Playoffs. It's not supposed to be easy. It's supposed to be a battle, and obviously we're in one."
One that continues back in Pittsburgh on Wednesday night. Until then, the Red Wings will have to find a way to re-energize themselves after failing to win the Stanley Cup in such a dramatic -- and lengthy -- fashion.
"We've played well on the road in Game 6 before," Wings forward Henrik Zetterberg said. "In Dallas, we won on the road. We have to refocus now and get some energy back.
"It was a close game. We almost played two games. It was tight. Both teams were battling really hard."
Contact Brian Compton at: firstname.lastname@example.org.