Pittsburgh Penguins goalie Marc-Andre Fleury, right, makes a save as Detroit Red Wings left wing Tomas Holmstrom (96), of Sweden, tries to deflect the shot in the third period of Game 6 of the NHL hockey Stanley Cup finals in Pittsburgh, Tuesday, June 9, 2009. At left is Penguins defenseman Rob Scuderi. The Penguins won 2-1 to even the series at 3-3. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)
By Phil Coffey, NHL.com Editorial Director
PITTSBURGH -- Facing the stigma of a second-straight elimination on home ice, the Pittsburgh Penguins instead played like champions Tuesday night, riding the goaltending of Marc-Andre Fleury to a 2-1 win in Game 6, forcing a decisive seventh game in Detroit Friday night.
The Penguins had seen the 2008 season end on Mellon Arena ice with the Red Wings celebrating a Stanley Cup championship and were in a similar predicament Tuesday with the Wings needing one more win to clinch and coming off a 5-0 win in Game 5 in Detroit.
"I think if you look at the articles, you hear our team, myself and the other coaches talk about Marc-Andre Fleury, there is no question in how he approaches the game, how he can play, and what he can do for us," Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said. "He's a guy who has come up big in a lot of big games. And there was a handful of times he came up big in this game."
The Penguins held a 2-0 lead early in the third period built on goals by Jordan Staal and Tyler Kennedy that looked like it would be enough, but when Kris Draper finally cracked through Fleury at 8:01, the Red Wings had a fresh breath of life and roared back.
Helped by penalties to Evgeni Malkin and Bill Guerin, the Red Wings began pressing the issue, but Fleury had the answer to each thrust, parrying them expertly aside. He even earned a break or two with his strong play, getting a fortunate bounce moments after Draper's goal when he bumped into Dan Cleary behind the net and the puck jumped into the air, dropping on Fleury and not into the net as he raced back to the front of the net.
Cleary and Fleury were linked again with 1:42 remaining when Fleury turned aside Cleary's backhand shot on a partial breakaway. He also held the goal line in the dying seconds when a gaggle of Red Wings crashed the crease after a loose puck.
"In the first, there wasn't a lot of shots, but there were two by (Henrik) Zetterberg that were big," Bylsma said. "The breakaway (on Cleary) in the third is a pretty big save at a pretty big time for our team. And that's what Marc-Andre has been able to do for us throughout this playoffs. He's shown that repeatedly here in Pittsburgh."
Fleury finished with 25 saves, while Detroit's Chris Osgood, who was excellent for the Red Wings, made 29 saves.
"I thought he was real good early," Wings coach Mike Babcock said of Osgood. "He had to be. In the end, probably Fleury ends up being a bit of a story for them with the way it went in the third period. But both goaltenders gave their team a chance.
"We went into the third period tonight, we were down 1-0, and you're set up pretty nice on the road for Game 6 in large part because of your goaltending, just because like I said, I thought they were quicker to pucks in the first 30 minutes of the game."
Kennedy scored the game-winning goal following a scramble behind the Detroit net. There, Kennedy walked out from behind to Osgood's right, scoring to give the Penguins a 2-0 lead at 5:35 of the third.
With a 2-0 lead and the way the Pens and Fleury were playing, the game looked to be in the bag, but Draper halved the lead at 8:01, converting a Jonathan Ericsson rebound to break the shutout and put the Wings very much back in the game, leading to the frantic final moments.
"I thought they were better than us … at the start of the game, probably, for the first almost 32 minutes," 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."
Jordan Staal put the Penguins into the lead 51 seconds into the second period, finishing off a 2-on-1 break he started by knocking the puck away from Valtteri Filppula at the Pittsburgh blue line.
Staal broke down ice with Matt Cooke on Ericsson and opted to shoot as Ericsson dropped for a possible block. Osgood made the initial stop, but the puck came back to Staal, whose second shot ticked off the glove of Osgood and into the net.
"I think Jordan Staal can, with his skating ability and his size, he can be a force in the defensive zone, he can be a force with his speed through the neutral zone. He can be a force in the offensive zone," Bylsma said. "And I think we saw him do that numerous times tonight where he was a force in whatever zone he was in. He's a unique combination of skating ability, plus the size he can bring to the game. And he's a young kid. He's just learning what he can do out there, and tonight was a game he did it on both ends of the rink.
"I think that's the story line of the playoffs," Bylsma said. "When your team can play well enough that different people can put on the cape on any given night. Tonight, it was Jordan Staal gets a big goal. It was a big play on the wall by Matt Cooke to get it out. Then Jordan Staal gets the goal on the 2-on-1. Then Tyler Kennedy makes pretty much a goal out of nothing. Just in the offensive zone, and he takes it to the net and stuffs it home.
"When your team plays well enough long enough and you put yourself in those positions, different guys are going to be the heros. Tonight it was 'TK,' and Jordan was also a huge part of that."