The Detroit Red Wings were 35 seconds from the Stanley Cup.
Now, it must seem light years away.
Maxime Talbot’s goal with 35 seconds left in regulation Monday night forced overtime and Petr Sykora won Game 5 for the Penguins in the third overtime with a laser shot.
The huge win sets up a Stanley Cup Final Game 6 showdown between the Penguins and Red Wings in Pittsburgh on Wednesday. Detroit leads the series, 3-2, but it certainly is a lot less comforting knowing it must return to Mellon Arena.
“We have to go back to Pittsburgh now and we know it’s going to be another battle,” Penguins winger Ryan Malone said. “I think the fans will be excited. It should be a great show.”
The Penguins have been nearly unbeatable at Mellon Arena the past three months. The team’s 2-1 defeat to Detroit in Saturday’s Game 4 was the its first home playoff loss in 10 games and snapped the Penguins’ 17-game home win streak.
Nevertheless, the Penguins are excited to play in front of their rowdy home crowd again.
“That’s huge. That’s what we wanted to do. We wanted to win this game on the road and go back home and we did it,” Talbot said. “We just found a way. There’s a lot of character in this dressing room. We’re pretty proud of this game, but now it’s in the back of our heads and we have to win the next game.”
Pittsburgh showed plenty of character Monday night. After building a 2-0 lead, the Penguins watched the Red Wings storm back for three-straight goals.
“We have to have hope. They battled back hard,” Malone said. “We got out of our game plan and were scrambling all over the ice. We have to make sure we don’t put ourselves in that situation again. We need to stay in control. I think we lost our focus a little bit and it ended up costing us.”
With their season on the line, Talbot punched a puck past Detroit’s Chris Osgood with 35 seconds to play to knot the game at 3-all. In the history of best-of-7 Stanley Cup Final games, home teams leading by one goal with 36 seconds left in regulation were a daunting 51-0 before Game 5 before Talbot’s goal.
“It’s definitely tough when you start the way we did. It was 2-0, and we were feeling pretty good. We were pressing for that third one, too. We just couldn’t get it, and allowed them to get back in the game,” Penguins captain Sidney Crosby said. “They scored that third one late, and basically it’s just survival. You’re just trying to hold on as long as you can and keep battling. Max got a huge goal. We were 35 seconds away from not playing for the rest of the season. So, we’re just happy that we’re able to fight on Wednesday night.”
Sykora blasted a puck over Osgood’s shoulder 9:57 into the third overtime, making this contest the fifth-longest game in Stanley Cup Final history.
“It definitely feels good. It’s not over until it’s over,” Talbot said. “I think that was a big game for us and there’s still some more hockey to be played.”
The Penguins, who faced a 3-1 deficit heading into Game 5, have rallied from that deficit two times in their playoff history, but never in the Stanley Cup Final. They overcame a 3-1 margin to beat Washington in the 1992 Patrick Division Semifinals and did it to the Capitals again in the 1995 Eastern Conference Quarterfinals. The 1995 series also saw Game 5 go to overtime before the Penguins won the next two to claim the victory.
“We get to live another day, just another game on Wednesday,” Sykora said. “I think if we can come up with the win, it’s going to be a lot of pressure on them. But, we just need to worry about the game on Wednesday and hopefully we can get that win.”
Talbot said the Penguins did not feel pressure. They enjoyed participating in one of the most-exciting games in franchise history.
“It was fun. It was a fun game to be a part of. Between every period, we had fun in this dressing room. We were upbeat; there wasn’t that stress of having to score right now,” he said. “All the guys were relaxed. It was a great win, but we still have some hockey to win and some hockey to be played.”