Pens force deciding Game 7 against Wings
One game for the Stanley Cup.
That is the story of this Final after the Penguins' inspired 2-1 victory Tuesday over the Detroit Red Wings at Mellon Arena.
However, the story of Game 6 was the Penguins' third line.
Goals from third-line forwards Jordan Staal and Tyler Kennedy held thanks to clutch saves by goalie Marc-Andre Fleury and anything-goes play in the crease by defenseman Rob Scuderi — and the Penguins forced a deciding Game 7 at Detroit on Friday without superstar centers Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby recording a point last night.
"That's the way we play here," Staal said. "It's a team effort every night. That's what good teams do — find ways to win, whether it's your big guys scoring or the third and fourth lines scoring.
"It's big for us."
A win Friday would be bigger. That would return the Cup to Pittsburgh for a third time and the first since 1992.
Penguins majority co-owner Mario Lemieux captained that 1992 Cup club. Yesterday was the 25th anniversary of his selection by the Penguins as the first overall draft pick in 1984.
Fleury was the first overall pick in 2003, and his 25 saves last night — including 13 in the final period — was a defiant response to his performance in Game 5 at Detroit last Saturday, when he was pulled midway through the game after making just 16 saves.
Fleury's right pad stop on a breakaway backhand by Red Wings winger Daniel Cleary with 1:45 remaining topped the save he made on Capitals winger Alex Ovechkin early in a second-round Game 7 victory at Washington.
Not long after that save, Fleury and Scuderi somehow protected a loose puck in the crease as rugged Red Wings winger Johan Franzen attempted to stuff home the tying goal.
"It was just us trying to do whatever (we) can to stop the puck," Scuderi said. "It's kind of weird to understand (Fleury's) broken English, but I'm pretty sure he was saying, 'Move!'
"Once the puck goes there, you have to try and take a man. I'm sure he wanted me to get out of the way, but that was one of those where I had no choice."
Neither did Staal, Kennedy and winger Matt Cooke, really.
Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said after a 5-0 loss in Game 5 that he would try a more defensive approach to the dangerous top-line duo of Detroit centers Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk, who combined for a goal and four points in that contest.
Cooke said he knew upon hearing Bylsma's statement that he, Staal and Kennedy would draw the difficult assignment of defending arguably the top two-way forwards in hockey.
Staal, though, wasn't thinking just defense.
"You know, Jordy thought we should pop in a couple, too," Kennedy said.
Though they dominated the first period, limiting the Red Wings to only three shots, the Penguins failed to score on their 12 attempts.
However, any sense that the Red Wings would open the second period with sigh-of-relief life faded when Staal scored 51 seconds in to give the Penguins a 1-0 lead.
In the neutral zone, Staal chipped the puck past Red Wings forward Valtteri Filppula, retrieved it and skated into the offensive zone on a 2-on-1 with Cooke.
Red Wings defenseman Jonathan Ericsson was the lone player back and he slid backwards as Staal looked toward Cooke. Staal tried a shot that Ericsson deflected towards Red Wings goalie Chris Osgood, who could not control the rebound.
Staal stayed on-course, gathered the puck and whipped it past Osgood for his fourth playoff goal and second of the Final.
"He rocketed it off my chin (on) the first one and it must have went right back on his stick," Osgood said. "It just nicked the bottom of my glove."
Staal said he never considered passing to Cooke.
"He hasn't made a pass to me all year in practice on 2-on-1s, and I go with him every day," Cooke said. "I've been screaming at him to shoot all year, and finally he listened."
The Penguins entered the third period with a 24-12 advantage in shots, but their one-goal lead was tenuous as best.
Kennedy's fifth playoff goal at 5:35 of the third period staked them a 2-0 lead. Strong down-low work by wingers Ruslan Fedotenko and Max Talbot set up Kennedy's opportunity near the side of the crease.
"He's got pretty good hands," Osgood said. "I was worried he was going to jam it. He actually tried to and he saw that he had more time and there was nobody there. He kind of stick-handled it out a bit and put it far side.
"It's a nice play by him."
The Red Wings pulled within a goal at 8:01 on veteran center Kris Draper's first of the playoffs. He roofed a rebound off a shot from Ericsson.
However, a couple of superb penalty kills by the Penguins — Staal is their top forward in that department — and the late heroics of Fleury and Scuderi were enough to get the Penguins within a victory of hockey immortality.
"This was a must-win game," Staal said, "and being able to have a hand in it was really special.
"But we've got one more win to get."