The Detroit Red Wings have preached throughout the Stanley Cup Final that winning wasn't going to be easy. But even they couldn't have thought it would be this difficult.
The Wings were 34.3 seconds away from their fourth Stanley Cup Monday night. The Cup was out of its box, the champagne was chilling, the "We Want the Cup" chants were deafening and the fans were starting to celebrate.
Then Pittsburgh spoiled the party. Maxime Talbot scored a sixth-attacker goal to tie the game and Petr Sykora's power-play goal at 9:57 of the third overtime gave the Penguins a celebration-wrecking 4-3 win.
Instead of spending Tuesday celebrating, the Wings spent it traveling to Pittsburgh for Game 6 Wednesday night (8 p.m. ET, NBC, CBC, RDS, NHL Radio).
"It does stink," Wings captain Nicklas Lidstrom said of the Cup-clinching victory that vanished. "But that's the beauty of sports. You've got to be ready to play the next game."
The Wings have already proved they can win at Mellon Arena – they ended the Penguins' 17-game home winning streak on Saturday with a 2-1 victory in Game 4. But the noise level at that game figures to be nothing compared with what the Wings will face in the Penguins' last home game of the season – with everything on the line.
Still, Wings coach Mike Babcock doesn't mind being away from home with a chance to clinch on the line.
"I think it's great to be on the road," he said. "We've closed out all three series on the road.
"I think the disappointment phase lasts about 15 minutes after you get out of the locker room,” he said. “The sun comes up in the morning, we still lead the series 3-2. Let's go."
Goaltender Chris Osgood also had no problem playing a potential Cup clincher away from Joe Louis Arena.
"We are a confident road team," he said. "We kind of relish it. We like to play on the road. Playing on the road brings out the best in our team, and it will tomorrow night."
One Wing with a unique perspective on Detroit's situation is defenseman Brian Rafalski, who would have scored the Cup-winner had the Wings been able to hang on. Eight years ago, Rafalski was a member of the New Jersey Devils when they had a chance to close out Dallas in Game 5, only to lose 1-0 in triple overtime. New Jersey went back to Dallas and won Game 6 in double OT.
"It comes down to determination," he said. "It didn't happen in Game 5. You have to refocus and ready for the next game."
Though the Wings spotted Pittsburgh an early 2-0 lead on Monday – only the second time in this year's Playoffs they've allowed the game's first two goals – Babcock can't be unhappy with his team's effort in Game 5. The Wings out-shot Pittsburgh 58-32, fired a total of 130 pucks at Marc-Andre Fleury
, and were in position to win the Cup after scoring twice in less than three minutes in the third period to go ahead – not to mention the 24 shots they took in overtime, all of which were turned aside by Fleury, who played the game of his life.
"I suppose we’re going to feel bad for ourselves for a bit, but it's the Stanley Cup Playoffs. It’s not supposed to be easy," Babcock said. "It's supposed to be a battle, and we're in one."
So what plan does Babcock have to nail down that elusive fourth win and bring the Stanley Cup back to Hockeytown?
"We just have to ask ourselves how bad we want to win, and how determined we are" he said. "I think the resolve of this group is real good. I think the determination is real good. I believe when you do good things, good things happen. Just do the good things again."
Lidstrom maintains the Wings can build off the comeback that came within 34.3 seconds of winning the Cup.
"We have to put this behind us," he said. "We have to regroup. We did some good things, and we have to build on that. We played a pretty solid game, and we have to take the good things into Game 6."
One thing they'll have to work on is their start. Just as they did in Game 5 of the Western Conference Finals, the Wings came out on their heels. Marian Hossa scored the game's first goal on a wrist shot from the slot and Adam Hall was credited with his second of the series when Detroit defenseman Niklas Kronwall accidentally put the puck off him and into the Wings' net. The Penguins had several chances to make it 3-0, and only a couple of big stops by Chris Osgood and some off-target shooting by the Penguins kept the deficit at two.
"I thought we played like a bunch of Nervous Nellies for about 20 minutes," he said.
The Wings held an optional skate Tuesday before coming to Pittsburgh, where Wednesday's game will begin less than 44 hours after Game 5 ended. That not much of a turnaround, especially for a team that relies on a number of older players to play major minutes. But Babcock said the Penguins' young legs won't be that much of an edge for the home team.
"I think a lot of our players are pretty young as well and pretty fit," he said. "To me, it's not a physical thing. It's a mental thing."
And there's no question the Wings would rather be in their position than the Penguins' situation.
"We're still up 3-2 and have another opportunity to close Pittsburgh out," said center Kris Draper, one of five Wings who's a win away from a fourth championship ring. We have to go out tomorrow and play a great game."
Author: John Kreiser | NHL.com Columnist