Penguins use their youth, energy to beat Red Wings
The guy whose teammates joked about his bad hands scored twice, the goalie who was yanked in his previous game at Joe Louis Arena saved his team’s season and the Pittsburgh Penguins dethroned the Detroit Red Wings as Stanley Cup champions in a Game 7 performance that will go down as one for the ages, if not the aged.
The young Penguins held the Red Wings to two goals in the last two games, winning by identical 2-1 scores and becoming only the third road team, after the 1945 Toronto Maple Leafs and 1971 Montreal Canadiens, to win a Game 7 in 15 occasions.
Despite losing Sidney Crosby to an injured left knee five minutes into the second period -- he took one tentative shift in the third but feared he’d hurt the team if he couldn’t play all out -- the Penguins made Maxime Talbot’s two goals stand up against a late Detroit push.
“I thought we looked out of gas pretty much all series,” Detroit Coach Mike Babcock said. “I thought we competed and I thought we tried, but I never thought we got to the level we’d have liked to.”
And how would you like to be Marian Hossa, who left the Penguins as a free agent last summer to sign with the Red Wings because he thought they had a better chance to win the Cup this season?
Hossa, downcast but classy, congratulated Penguins winger Miroslav Satan, his Slovakian compatriot. He said he wasn’t sure if he will stay in Detroit but the present weighed too heavily on him to ponder the future.
“I’m sad to lose,” he said. “I worked hard, but you need to be lucky.”
The Red Wings were unlucky Friday -- Niklas Kronwall hit the crossbar with just under three minutes left -- but they weren’t energetic enough to win. Their offense vanished and their defense, shaky much of the season but improved by playoff time, fell apart. Mistakes by Brad Stuart set up the goals by Talbot, a grinder who had eight playoff goals after scoring 12 during the season.
“Hey, I still have bad hands,” Talbot said, laughing. “These two goals don’t improve my stickhandling skills.”
But they helped make him a Stanley Cup champion, as did the diving save by goalie Marc-Andre Fleury on a shot from the left side by Nicklas Lidstrom with a few ticks left on the clock.
“They played desperate. They were coming at us,” Talbot said. “They’re a great team and we were able to stay with it and win the game.”
They prevailed because 20-year-old Jordan Staal took Crosby’s spot on the top line and Talbot moved from a line with playoff MVP Evgeni Malkin to centering a makeshift third line and it all worked.
“It means so much. It’s even way beyond that,” said Crosby, at 21 the youngest captain to hoist the Cup. “I had to sit and wait and watch, but we don’t get to this point without everyone contributing, and I knew that guys were going to find a way to pull it off.”
They blocked shots. They had 44 hits to Detroit’s 35. On the few occasions they faltered, they relied on their youth and teamwork to sustain them.
“Everybody left everything on the ice. Everyone had a great effort,” said winger Chris Kunitz, disappointed about being traded from the Ducks to the 10th-place Penguins in February but now about to get his name on the Cup for the second time in three seasons.
“After I got here it was a roller coaster all the time. We kept winning and just kept getting better and better and started to believe we had something special. And look what happened.”
Dan Bylsma, who replaced Michel Therrien as coach on Feb. 15, provided encouragement and an up-tempo style. Sergei Gonchar, out most of the season after shoulder surgery and hobbled by a knee injury in the second round, played valiantly on one leg. He was the third player to hold the Cup, after Crosby and veteran Bill Guerin. Gonchar gave it to Satan and he passed it to Petr Sykora, a teammate of Bylsma’s on the 2003 Ducks team that lost a seven-game final to New Jersey.
Mario Lemieux had a chance to reacquaint himself with the prize he won as a player in 1991 and 1992. He wouldn’t have held the Cup on Friday if he hadn’t saved the financially troubled franchise by becoming a majority owner and working out a deal for a new arena.
“These kids are 21, 22 years old and if they stick together 15 years they have a chance to do something special together,” he said. “I like our chances going forward.”
Bylsma, who swore off watching victory ceremonies after his 2003 loss, not only watched a presentation Friday but participated in it. “It definitely does fill the void,” he said.
General Manager Ray Shero did feel a void Friday. His father, Fred, who died in 1990, coached the Flyers to Cup championships in 1974 and 1975 and taught Ray about the game he has made his career. It was Fred Shero who wrote on the locker room blackboard before the Flyers’ first Cup triumph the words, “Win together today and we walk together forever.”
The Penguins will walk together now.
“I think he’d be proud,” Ray Shero said.