DETROIT – It was said that the Detroit Red Wings could not lose Game 7 of a Stanley Cup final on home ice. They did.
That Marc-Andre Fleury could not be counted on to win big games. He has.
They defeated the Red Wings, 2-1, in Game 7 at Joe Louis Arena last night to earn the third Stanley Cup in franchise history.
The driving forces behind the victory were forward Max Talbot, who scored both goals, and Fleury, who turned aside 23 of 24 shots and made a lunging game-, season- and Cup-saving stop on Nicklas Lidstrom with about a second to play.
Penguins center Evgeni Malkin, who led the playoffs in scoring with 36 points, received the Conn Smythe Trophy as the most valuable player in the postseason.
“He told us before the playoffs that he was going to lead us to the Stanley Cup,” right winger Bill Guerin said. “He’s an amazing competitor, an amazing player.”
But this victory was not about one guy, or two or three. Championships are won by 20 or 21 or 22 men, although the Penguins had to get by with 19 for much of last night.
Captain Sidney Crosby missed most of the final 34-plus minutes after Detroit’s Johan Franzen hit him at center ice early in the second period, pinning Crosby’s left knee between his own and the boards.
Crosby went to the dressing room and did not return until the start of the third and managed only one 32-second shift in the middle of that period.
“We tried to make it so I couldn’t feel it anymore, but it just didn’t work,” he said.
The injury did not, however, prevent him from becoming the youngest captain in league history to hoist the Stanley Cup.
“It’s everything you dream of,” Crosby said. “It’s an amazing feeling.”
He later pronounced himself to be “100 percent” for the victory parade.
Crosby was the No. 2 scorer in these playoffs, putting up 31 points in 24 games.
Talbot gave the Penguins all the offense they needed, but it was not clear that he had the winner until Fleury threw himself across the crease to deny Lidstrom on a rebound with about a second to go.
“I saw the shot coming in, and I just tried to do everything I could to get over there,” Fleury said.
He did and, in the process, secured a championship and shattered the perception that he cannot produce when the pressure and stakes are highest.
“It’s only fitting that he made that save with a second left to clinch it for us,” defenseman Mark Eaton said. “You can’t say enough about the way he’s played, and what he did for us.”
Winning Game 7 avenged losing the Cup to Detroit at Mellon Arena in 2008 and completed a remarkable turnaround by the Penguins. When Dan Bylsma was brought in to replace Michel Therrien as coach Feb. 15, they were five points out of the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference standings.
Bylsma promptly led them to an 18-3-4 record during the stretch drive and rallied them from a 3-2 deficit in this series. He joins Al MacNeil as the only rookie coaches to win a Cup after getting his job during the season. MacNeil did it with Montreal in 1971.
The Penguins have won all three of their Cups on the road — they did it in Minnesota in 1991 and in Chicago in 1992 — and last night became the only road team to win a game in this series.
The loss was just the Red Wings’ second in 14 home dates during the playoffs and marked just the third time in 15 tries that the visiting club has won Game 7 in a Cup final.
It helped that the Penguins never had to play from behind. Talbot gave them a 1-0 lead at 1:13 of the second when he put a shot between the legs of Red Wings goalie Chris Osgood from the inner edge of the right circle. Malkin made the goal possible by getting his stick on a Brad Stuart pass and deflecting it to Talbot.
Talbot beat Osgood on a two-on-one break at 10:07 of the second, and that provided the Penguins’ margin of victory after Detroit’s Jonathan Ericsson scored from the right point at 13:53 of the third.
But that was the only puck Detroit got past Fleury, and at 10:37 p.m., the Penguins triggered a civic celebration that might last for days.
“I really don’t know if it’s sunk in yet,” Eaton said. “It doesn’t get any better than this.”
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