PITTSBURGH – The Stanley Cup is returning to “Hockeytown!”
The Detroit Red Wings, stunned to have lost Game 5 at home in triple overtime, played a perfect road game Wednesday night at Mellon Arena, defeating the Pittsburgh Penguins, 3-2, in Game 6 of the 2008 Stanley Cup Final to go wire-to-wire as the best team in the National Hockey League this season.
“It's never easy,” Wings goalie Chris Osgood said. “Toughest trophy in sports to win; it lives for that name every year, that nickname. It was difficult, again. Pittsburgh is a great young team … gave us all we could handle. Probably one of the most difficult series I've played in a while. They have a talented team. They held on right to the end again. They kept pushing us still.”
Henrik Zetterberg was named the winner of the Conn Smythe Trophy as the Most Valuable Player of the postseason and defenseman Nicklas Lidstrom became the first European captain to lift the Stanley Cup aloft.
“It felt great being the first guy to touch the Cup on our team,” the classy Lidstrom said. “Otherwise it felt the same as winning the previous ones, where you're so happy with the end result. You start training camp with a goal, and that is to win the Stanley Cup.
“You talk about it throughout the season and the way you have to play to be able to be successful in the playoffs,” Lidstrom said. “And we had a good regular season, and we were able to carry that into the playoffs, too, and so that's something I'm more proud the way the team played in the playoffs, too. It was a tough loss last year against Anaheim in the conference finals, but most of the guys were on that team last year. And this time around, I thought the team really responded well to some of the adversity we faced throughout the run.”
The Wings won the Presidents’ Trophy for the best record in the regular season and proved to be the best team in the postseason as well, utilizing the smart, selfless brand of puck-possession hockey that has become the trademark of coach Mike Babcock.
“I probably haven't come to grips with that,” Babcock said when asked his emotions after winning his first Stanley Cup. “But to be able to share this journey with the guys and to be able to share it with the city of Detroit, and obviously my family, that's very emotional. And I'm sure I'm going to have some emotional moments in the next week just thinking about it. But to have your name on the Stanley Cup, pretty special.
“The interesting thing is when you're playing in the Stanley Cup Final like this and it's a closeout game, the emotion on your bench is so much more than you've had to deal with,” he said. “Getting guys on and off the ice is more difficult, and yet we have a real committed group.
“Nicklas Lidstrom, in my opinion, is a phenomenal leader and captain with his poise and his skill. And then the support group in (Chris) Chelios and (Kris) Draper. And (Pavel) Datsyuk and (Henrik) Zetterberg, for their leadership. You know, we have a very special team, and we're thrilled to be in this situation, obviously.”
The Wings last won the Cup in 2002, and prior to that in 1997 and ’98.
Brian Rafalski, Valtteri Filppula and Zetterberg scored for the Red Wings in Game 6, offsetting Penguins’ goals from Evgeni Malkin and Marian Hossa, whose power-play goal at 18:33 of the third period closed the gap to just one goal. It created a wild battle to the final buzzer with the Wings staving off one last drive by Hossa, who sent the puck skittering across the Detroit goal line as time expired.
“It was chaotic the last 40 seconds,” Wings goalie Chris Osgood said. “We had it out of the zone with 10 seconds left, and they made a great play. They have a really good team. Crosby was flying. I knew it was a good backhander (by Hossa). I tried to get as far out as I could, and it ended up hitting my arm. I think time had run out before it started rolling over the side of the net. I was happy to see the ref yell time was up when I looked up.”
And the Red Wings all know how vital Osgood’s play was. He replaced an ineffective Dominik Hasek in the first round and never looked back.
“I think Ozzie is a fantastic story,” Babcock said. “You talk about us, but when you pull your goalie in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, that usually means you're going fishing in about three days, and not 14 more wins or whatever we needed to get it done. You gotta give him a lot of credit. He sat in my office at my house three years ago or two years ago, I guess, after the season and talked about reinventing himself and finding a way, and he did.
“He learned how to butterfly, and he's improved his game,” Babcock said. “And he's now back as one of the top goalies in the League because of his mental toughness and his stick-to-it-iveness. And I think he showed that in bouncing back and winning tonight.”
Wing after Wing spoke of the team’s experience and ability to battle back. But none put it better than Lidstrom.
“I think experience has a lot to do with that,” Lidstrom said. “We have some young players, but when you have some players that have been through it before, they know what to expect. And I think that gives the whole team some calmness, too, that we're not going to panic. We're going to go out there and try to play our system and play, stick to our game plan. But the main thing is that we didn't get rattled. I thought we looked a little tentative in Game 5, in that first period in Game 5. You talk about not thinking ahead and kind of put all the distractions away, but it's in the back of your mind, they're still there a little bit.
“I think that showed in Game 5, in the first period. Once we got going, we played a lot better in that game. But losing that in triple overtime, I thought the team did a good job of putting that behind us. Coming here yesterday on the plane everybody was relaxed. We felt confident as a group. And I felt like that showed in that first period, too, the way we played in the first period tonight.”
The loss was a bitter pill for the Penguins, who had rallied to win Game 5 in dramatic fashion in triple overtime to force another game in Pittsburgh.
“We probably didn’t play as well as we wanted to there,” Sidney Crosby said of losing Games 1 and 2 in Detroit. “We knew we could step up our game a bit. Coming back here we were confident we could get back in the series. Winning that last one in Detroit definitely gave us momentum coming back here. We just couldn’t get that one to get it back there.
“We wanted to leave it all out there,” Crosby said. “We just came up short. It’s pretty tough. It’s not a fun time. We have to remember this feeling for sure.”
“I'm almost speechless,” Penguins coach Michel Therrien said. “It's tough. We were that close. It is really tough, because this is a group that gave what they got. They deserve a lot of respect. We got beat by a quality team. They showed it all through the regular season and through the playoffs. They played really well. They were tough to play against, and the hockey god was not on our side tonight. But they deserved to win the Stanley Cup.”
The Wings stunned the big crowd into silence at 7:36 of the third period when Zetterberg scored to make it 3-1. Gaining the Pittsburgh zone, Zetterberg took a wrist shot from the left circle with Sergei Gonchar on him. The puck got through and Marc-Andre Fleury dropped to his knees, apparently stopping the puck to the point where some of the Pens held up, expecting a faceoff.
But the puck had trickled through Fleury and was rolling toward the net. Fleury realized the puck was free and dropped to the ice, inadvertently sending the puck across the goal line. Referee Marc Joannette was right behind the net on the play and immediately signaled the goal that made it 3-1 for Detroit.
The Wings dominated play in the third period, shooting holes in the theory that they would be the tired team after Monday’s triple-overtime loss. But the Wings had plenty of energy and at one point had a 12-1 lead in shots. Time and again, the Wings made heady plays in their zone to force shots wide and then get the puck deep, eating up chunks of clock that proved to be every bit as detrimental to the Pens as the score.
“Someone said to me here earlier, you turned your best offensive players into checkers,” Babcock said of the strong two-way play of Zetterberg and Datsyuk. “I never did that. They're just very good both ways, and deliver offensively. And that's the philosophy I have, anyway. I believe if the people that are playing against the best people can score, they gotta worry about them.
“If you've got guys who don't score playing against those people, they can just let it go on offense all the time. ‘Z’ and Pavel are two of the best players in the world. And when you put Rafalski and Nick on the ice with them, I mean, that's a pretty special group. And Crosby and Hossa gave us all we could handle, and yet it was great to see us, obviously, get this done.”
Rafalski got the Red Wings on the scoreboard early, netting a power-play goal at 5:03 of the first period after Pittsburgh defenseman Darryl Sydor had been boxed for interference on Kirk Maltby at 4:17.
The Penguins’ inability to clear the puck cost them dearly on this goal, as Pittsburgh had a couple opportunities to get the puck out of their end, but failed each time. Rafalski moved into the left faceoff circle and then sent a rising shot on the Penguins’ net that deflected home off the right leg of Pittsburgh defenseman Hal Gill.
Zetterberg got the primary assist, making the goal happen with a sharp pass from the right circle to Rafalski. Datsyuk also got an assist, but Tomas Holmstrom was equally deserving, having done good work keeping the puck alive in the Pittsburgh zone.
The Wings got into penalty trouble when Dallas Drake was called for charging at 8:28 and Draper was called for roughing Gonchar up high at 8:55, giving the Pens a 5-on-3 advantage for 1:33.
But as they did in a Game 4 win, the Red Wings’ penalty killers came up huge, limiting the Penguins to a couple long drives while keeping the front of their net open for Osgood to see the plays.
The Penguins got a scare early in the second period when Crosby was plastered against the boards on a Brad Stuart hit with the Pens on a power play. Unsteady, Crosby got to the bench, collected himself and returned to action.
Filppula made it 2-0 Detroit at 8:07, scoring on a shot Fleury would love to have back. Mikael Samuelsson gained the Pittsburgh end and moved to the right circle, taking a wrist shot instead of indulging in a slapper. Fleury kicked the rebound out in front and Filppula, tied up with Brooks Orpik, got his stick free and backhanded the shot into the Penguin net.
The Pens almost broke through with 6:25 left when Maxime Talbot was stopped by Osgood from the slot, but left the rebound to Gary Roberts. Osgood stopped Roberts’ first drive and then made a remarkable save with the glove portion of his blocker to prevent the rebound from going in.
The Detroit goalie could do nothing about Malkin’s power-play goal at 15:26 that got the Pens on the board. Taking a Crosby pass just off the dot of the left circle, Malkin had plenty of room and took his time, driving a heavy shot between Osgood’s pads to halve the Detroit lead.
“Obviously, we were really nervous in our first game,” Therrien said. “And they were uncomfortable, and with good reason; it's a lot to demand to those young kids to play in a Stanley Cup Final. And I thought we learned quick, because after Game 3 we started to play our game. They were tight games, could go both ways. Tonight, this game could have gone both ways as well.
“You learn a lot in those situations,” Therrien said. “And that's going to make us stronger in the future.”
1 - 0 DET