Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Unbelievable

With the seconds ticking off in the last minute of Game 5 of the NHL Stanley Cup Finals, I stood only a few feet away from my television, quietly staring as the Detroit Red Wings were mere moments away from being inscribed as the 2008 Stanley Cup Champions.

The Pittsburgh Penguins 1st period 2-0 lead, along with their hopes of extending the series, had slowly deteriorated. Darren Helm first put the Wings on the board just shy of 3 minutes into the 2nd period when he took a feed from Maltby and threw a shot on net that deflected and beat Fleury short-side.

At the 13:17 mark of the 3rd the Red Wings took advantage of a Tyler Kennedy Hooking minor, tying the game with Datsyuk's five-hole deflection. Less than 3 minutes later Detroit took the lead when Brian Rafalski took a pass in the high slot and threw one passed Fleury.

And now with time dwindling away on their season, the Penguins pull goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury, who had been stellar throughout the game, for an extra attacker. I stood motionless. I'm not even sure if I'm breathing at this point. Chant's of "We Want the Cup" are echoing through the Joe Louis Arena.

The puck kicks to Crosby in the corner. Malkin is being tied up in the slot. Extra attacker Maxime Talbot gets himself to the side of the net. With under 40 seconds left in the game Crosby finds Talbot by the post. Wings tender Chris Osgood makes a pad save, but Talbot gets right back on the rebound. He makes another attempt at shuffling it by Osgood. I'm peering closely at the net. The revolution of the planet slows. Time is crawling. I've never wanted to see a red light so badly. Evgeni Malkin raises his arms towards the sky. Behind the net Talbot is celebrating. 3-3. Tie game. ESPN News would later report this as the latest game tying goal in a Stanley Cup elimination game, and I'm prone to believe them.

Throughout the game I had been posting to a Live Game Blog with a panel of other bloggers over at Greg Wysynski's Puck Daddy [which if you haven't noticed is becoming the best hockey blog on Al Gore's internet]. With the breath of life back in the lungs of the Penguins, the decidedly pro-Pittsburgh panel was reinvigorated. I didn't think Sean Leahy of Going Five Hole was going to make it through the night. At the beginning of the game I was hoping to offer impartial insightful commentary, by overtime I was posting a link to Kasparaitis's Game 7 OT goal against the Sabres in 2001.

Heading into overtime I knew the first few minutes would be dangerous. But after you get past a certain settling in period, both teams start playing for the long haul. In retrospect some of the people I've talked with have told me the Red Wings controlled play in the 1st OT. Others said the Penguins controlled the 2nd. I don't know, to me momentum seemed to be shifting ever possession, but everything has begun to blur together. This is probably because I was a ball of anxiety and not enough oxygen was getting to my brain [I held my breath every time the Red Wings possessed the puck in the Penguins zone].

One thing that is for sure, is that as one overtime became two, became three, it was clear that Marc-Andre Fleury was keeping the Penguins in the game. The young goaltender turned in a performance that will go down as one of the all-time greats in the Stanley Cup Finals, and made some saves that will live on forever or poor quality YouTube videos.

Towards the last few minutes of the 2nd OT period, Pittsburgh Penguins winger Petr Sykora caught the attention of Pierre McGuire, the NBC Commentator seated between the team benches. "I'm going to score." he said.

The Penguins caught a break in the 3rd OT when Jiri Hudler's stick caught Pittsburgh defenseman Rob Scuderi in the face. Scuderi never wanted to bleed so badly. They called the double minor and the Penguins had 4 minutes of power-play on the board.

Only a handful of seconds into the power-play Malkin settled down a errant shot behind the net. As he swung around the back of the net to Osgood's left the Red Wing's penalty killers collapsed ] in front of the net. Sneaking into the play, Petr Sykora set up in the left circle. Malkin's pass hit Sykora in stride, with plenty of room, and Sykora let a wrist shot go in the face of a Wing's player, sliding out to block the shot.

Once again time slowed. I'm searching for the puck with my eyes. I don't think it hit Osgood. I didn't hear it ring off the post. It wasn't wide. An eternity passes. Staring at the net, I see the puck falling to the ice. Game over. Jubilation ensues. Penguins win and stay alive to host Game 6 in Pittsburgh.

The game will go down as the 5th longest game in the history of the Stanley Cup Finals. Regardless of the outcome of the series, it will go down as one of the greatest games ever. Fleury's fifty-five saves. Talbot tying the game when the Wings could almost feel the Cup in their hands. Petr Sykora's called shot. Unbelievable.

You may have seen this picture on The Pens Blog. I'm also running it, with the permission of the creator, my clever and aptly skilled photoshop jobber brother John.