Penguins survive trip to the brink

Thirty-five seconds away from a Red Wings Stanley Cup, Pittsburgh ties Game 5 and then wins a 3OT thriller.

Published June 3, 2008 10:30AM (EDT)

If ever a team deserved to play another game it's the Pittsburgh Penguins, who staved off elimination with a 4-3 road win over the Detroit Red Wings in a triple overtime thriller Monday night. The Red Wings, who were within 35 seconds of winning the Stanley Cup, lead the Finals 3-2, with Game 6 in Pittsburgh Wednesday.

Goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury kept the Penguins in the game as Detroit rallied from a good Pittsburgh start to dominate the second and third periods. And the overtime. And the second overtime. And the third. The Red Wings outshot the Pens 58-32, including 38-18 after the second period.

The Penguins built a 2-0 lead in the first period and were in control against a Red Wings team that looked tentative, but the Pens' collective shoulders seemed to sag early in the second period when Darren Helm bounced a shot off Pittsburgh defenseman Rob Scuderi and into the net. But Fleury held off the onslaught with save after save, including a dazzler on a breakaway that robbed Mikael Samuelsson of what would have been the tying goal.

Detroit did tie it up at 6:43 of the third on Pavel Datsyuk's power-play goal, and 2:40 later Brian Rafalski scored what looked like the Stanley Cup winner on a shot from the right faceoff circle. Joe Louis Arena was bedlam as the clock wound down, the fans chanting, "We want the cup," which at that moment was under the stands being polished and pampered by its white-gloved handler in a ritual that's gotten just a wee bit precious.

Fleury came out for an extra attacker with a little over a minute to go, and that extra man, Maxime Talbot, shut the crowd down with 34.3 seconds left. He reached from behind the net to take two whacks at a puck that sat between Red Wings goalie Chris Osgood's left skate and the goal post. The second whack did the trick.

The Penguins survived a pair of tough injuries. Left wing Ryan Malone was camped in front of the Detroit net in the third period when Hal Gill's slap shot caught him flush in the face, breaking his nose. He was quickly helped off the ice by referee Paul Devorski, though he returned for the third period.

Not long before that, defenseman Sergei Gonchar had gone head-first into the end boards on the breakaway that resulted in Fleury's great save on Samuelsson.

Dazed, Gonchar left the ice with assistance, returned to play briefly in the third period, then didn't appear again -- until the third overtime, when, saying he felt better and asking in because "the game was so long, I wanted to help our guys," he reappeared for a power play resulting from a double minor against Jiri Hudler, who had drawn blood with an inadvertent high stick on Scuderi.

Gonchar helped set up the winning goal, a wrist shot from the slot by Petr Sykora that beat Osgood on the glove side at 9:57 of the third overtime.

Five years ago, Sykora scored to win a five-overtime playoff game for the Anaheim Mighty Ducks against the Dallas Stars. Monday night, he had tapped on the glass during the second overtime to tell NBC announcer Pierre McGuire, who stands between the two teams' benches and is a rare sideline reporter who actually adds to the broadcast, that he was going to score the game-winner. It took a while, but he was true to his word.

Down 3-1 in games, trailing a great team in the final minute on the road, the opposing crowd going crazy, the Penguins had every right to go into their "We gave it a shot, but we're young and we'll be back" routine. And they had every opportunity to wilt under the relentless Detroit attack in overtime.

They didn't, and they gave their home fans one more game. They still have a long way to go to give them more than that, but that's a lot better than the way things were looking with 35 seconds left in regulation Monday. The Stanley Cup and its handler and the white gloves will be on hand in Pittsburgh Wednesday, and the Penguins will try to send the whole thing back to Detroit for a Game 7.

By King Kaufman

King Kaufman is a senior writer for Salon. You can e-mail him at king at salon dot com. Facebook / Twitter / Tumblr

MORE FROM King Kaufman

Related Topics ------------------------------------------