A familiar foe awaited the Pens as they entered the 2009 playoffs: their most hated rival, the Philadelphia Flyers.
It's a rivalry that needs no introduction. The two Keystone state teams have shared a mutual hatred of each other for decades. And it's one of the most heated rivalries in all of sports, not just in hockey.
Philadelphia's 4-3 loss at home to the NY Rangers in the regular-season finale gave Pittsburgh home-ice advantage in the opening round. It was a gift of which the Pens would take full advantage.
Pittsburgh dominated the opening contest with a 4-1 victory, thanks to goals from Sidney Crosby, Tyler Kennedy, Evgeni Malkin and Mark Eaton. The highlight of the contest came when Marc-Andre Fleury made a split toe save on Jeff Carter to prevent a goal.
Game 2 was much more of a grind. As the clock ticked down in regulation, the Pens found themselves trailing 2-1. But the Flyers' Carter took a hooking penalty late in the game. The Pens connected on a Malkin power-play goal to tie the game with just 3:37 to play.
As the game moved into overtime, Philadelphia's undisciplined approach to hockey led to consecutive penalties on Mike Knuble and Claude Giroux. Pittsburgh had a 5-on-3 late in the frame.
The veteran Bill Guerin, who scored a goal earlier in the game, took a pass at the goal line, carried toward the crease and buried a shot behind Martin Biron to give the Pens a 2-0 series advantage.
"I know their penalty killers move up a little higher so I could creep up and take a little more space to myself," Guerin said. "I had a plan to just take it right to the net. Luckily it found its way in, and honestly it is one of the biggest goals I've scored in my career."
Game 3 shifted to the unfriendly confines of Philadelphia. The crowd and Flyers provided a hostile environment. And Philadelphia used that energy to register a dominating effort in a 6-3 victory.
Game 4 appeared to be much the same, but this time there was a different result. The Flyers dominated play from start to finish. But as good as they were, goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury was better.
Fleury stopped 45 of 46 shots in the contest, including 18 in the third period, as the Pens gutted out a 3-1 victory.
"He played unbelievable in that game," center Jordan Staal said.
Thanks to Fleury's play, the Pens returned to Pittsburgh with a 3-1 series advantage and one win away from advancing.
"After you win the first two games you have a real opportunity to a grasp onto the series," Eaton said. "Fleury gave us that opportunity with that performance.
"He stole that one. We probably had no business winning that game."
The Pens had an opportunity to close out the series at home in Game 5. However, the Flyers weren't going to go quietly. Biron stopped all 28 shots the Pens put on net and Philadelphia recorded a 3-0 win to remain alive.
The Flyers were riding high on two strong performances and rode that momentum into Game 6 at home. Philadelphia opened the scoring late in the first period after Max Talbot committed a turnover that led to a Mike Knuble goal. A mere 51-seconds later Joffrey Lupul would also tally.
The Flyers struck twice in the final three minutes of the opening period to take a 2-0 lead.
Daniel Briere scored a power-play goal four minutes into the second period to give Philadelphia a 3-0 lead. The deficit appeared insurmountable as the Pens hadn't scored a goal on Biron since the second period of Game 4. The Flyers were surging and it seemed nothing would stop their momentum.
That's when the course of history changed.
"I messed up on that first period goal. I'm sitting between the first period and second and thinking what can I do?" Talbot said. "I know I'm not going to score three goals. It's already 3-0."
Talbot lined up for a faceoff next to Philadelphia tough guy Daniel Carcillo and had an epiphany.
"I got to the faceoff not even thinking too much about fighting Carcillo," Talbot said. "It really just came to me. Let's do this. And I asked him to fight.
"I knew he wouldn't refuse."
The two squared off and Talbot took the worst of the beating. He ended up on his back after being on the receiving end of a few blows. As Carcillo got up he waved his arms into the air encouraging the crowd to make noise. They obliged in cacophonous fashion.
"I'm on the ice and I see him from the corner of my eye and he's (waving). And the crowd went nuts," Talbot said. "So, I'm like what's the opposite of that? And I just go…"
Talbot put his hands to his lips to shush the crowd as he was led to the penalty box.
"No specific reason," he said. "I went and sat in the box and my teammates just answered the bell."
Talbot's fight energized the Pens' bench.
"(Talbot) showed us it's not over," Malkin said. "It's just the second period. It doesn't matter that we're losing 3-0. We can come back. Everyone on the bench saw that. He fought a big guy. He lost, but we understood we could come back."
The Pens responded immediately. On the ensuing shift, Fedotenko scored to get Pittsburgh on the board. It came just 14 seconds after Talbot's fight.
Two minutes later, Eaton batted an airborne rebound out of the air and into the net to make it a 3-2 game. Late in the second period, Crosby knocked a puck from the air into the net at the side of the cage. Pittsburgh scored three goals in 12:24 minutes to erase a 3-0 score.
Gonchar buried a slap shot from the blue line two minutes into the third period to give the Pens a 4-3 lead. By the time Crosby added an empty-netter, 5-3, all hope was gone for Philadelphia. Pittsburgh's five unanswered goals lifted it past the Flyers and into the next round.
"I still can't believe what transpired there," Pens head coach Dan Bylsma said.
But no image more captures that series than the visage of Talbot's shhh.
"I get asked about that moment often," Talbot said. "I have people sending me pictures of tattoos of some guy's leg."
It appeared that the Pens were destined to lose Game 6. Then anything could have happened in a winner-take-all Game 7. Talbot helped ensure that a Game 7 wasn't necessary.
"Max stood up for us and wanted to get us going," Guerin said. "Then the shhh came in. And we had the comeback. It was incredible. We were on a roll. It was an amazing couple of minutes."