Pass the Cup: Penguins edge Red Wings for 3rd NHL championship
DETROIT — Kids, they grow up so fast.
The young Penguins grew into champions Friday night.
Playing mostly without 21-year-old captain Sidney Crosby, they dethroned the veteran Detroit Red Wings at Joe Louis Arena with a 2-1 victory to claim the Stanley Cup.
After falling into a 2-0 hole in the best-of-seven Final, the Penguins took four of five against the defending champions.
”I didn't know, coming into my first year, how quick we were going to be able to establish ourselves as a solid team in the NHL,” said Crosby, the youngest captain in league history to win the Cup. “We proved pretty quickly that we wanted to make an impact as early as we could.”
Forward Max Talbot and goalie Marc-Andre Fleury made the most impact last night.
Talbot scored twice, and Fleury stopped 22 shots to help deliver the Cup to Pittsburgh for a third time, and the first since 1992.
Fleury capped a frantic final minute by making a diving stop on Red Wings defenseman Nicklas Lidstrom's shot right before time expired.
”You've got to make those big ones if you want to be a champion,” Fleury said. “That was a big one — the biggest of my life.”
After the Red Wings pulled within 2-1 late in the third period, Talbot, whose two goals were scored in the second, eased any tension Fleury may have been feeling.
”I told him I still had the winner; do it for me,” said Talbot, who then joked about his nickname, “Bad Hands.”
Lidstrom's take on Fleury's Cup-saving stop: “The puck squared out to me, and it was either their (defensemen) or their forward came diving out toward me, and the goalie did the same thing. He pulled across, and I think I hit him in the chest.”
Crosby's left knee was injured 5:30 into the second period on a collision with Detroit winger Johan Franzen. No penalty was called. Crosby did not return until 10:25 of the final period — and only for a brief stint.
Playing without their captain didn't faze the Penguins, who became the first NHL team since the 1971 Montreal Canadiens to win Game 7 of the last series on the road.
”We've faced more adversity than that,” defenseman Rob Scuderi said. “It was tough for Sid, obviously, but we were confident. It wasn't going to faze us.
”We weren't going to be denied.”
Not again, anyway.
The Red Wings beat the Penguins in a six-game Final last year.
The Penguins, though, are the first team since the 1984 Edmonton Oilers to win a Final rematch against a team that bested them the previous season.
”This is why I stayed, to play in games like this,” defenseman Brooks Orpik said. “I knew we had a team that would win games like this.”
Looking back, it is easy to see why Orpik was so confident.
Crosby led all players with 15 playoff goals. Fellow center Evgeni Malkin paced the postseason with 36 points to earn the Conn Smythe Trophy. Fleury closed out four opponents on their home ice.
None of those players is 25. Center Jordan Staal, two goals in the Final, is 20. Kris Letang, arguably the Penguins' best defenseman in the playoffs, is 21.
Talbot is 25.
Talbot led all players with four Final goals and finished the playoffs with eight. He scored 12 in 75 regular-season games.
After a scoreless first period, Talbot tallied early in the second to put the Penguins ahead at 1:13.
Crosby was injured soon after.
As he chased a loose puck in the neutral zone, Crosby was checked by Franzen, who pinned him against the boards with a knee-on-knee hit.
Penguins defenseman Hal Gill was penalized for holding the stick of Red Wings forward Pavel Datsyuk a couple of minutes after Crosby left the game. The Penguins killed that penalty and soon turned that momentum into a two-goal cushion.
Winger Chris Kunitz chipped a puck past an offensive-zone pinching Brad Stuart near the blue line. Talbot recovered and led a 2-on-1 with winger Tyler Kennedy.
Talbot opted not to pass, and catching Osgood leaning to his right, roofed a shot into the right corner of the net for a 2-0 lead at 10:07.
The Red Wings charged hard after that point, but did not score until defenseman Jonathan Ericsson's blast beat Fleury at 13:53 of the third period.
With just more than two minutes remaining, Red Wings defenseman Nicklas Kronwall hit the crossbar with a hard shot.
However, the Penguins held off a late rally by the Red Wings, who had an extra attacker with Osgood pulled.
”I can't say what I was thinking in that last minute,” Orpik said. “I fell on the puck at the end, and there was six seconds left. It was a long six seconds.
”That save (Fleury) made at the end was the best I've ever seen him make.”
That's the other thing about kids: They're unpredictable, and sometimes stubborn.