It’s the series we all wanted as Penguin fans, a rematch with the defending Cup Champs, and a chance to get back at turn-coat Marian Hossa, who bolted a pretty good gig in the ‘Burgh, to have a “better” chance at winning with the Wings. More on that in a bit. A decent amount of hate has built up between these teams in back to back Cup Finals, and the fans have caught on to the bad blood. The Wings won the first two games at the Joe, 3-1. But unlike last year, the Pens’ actually deserved at least one of these two based on effort. Basically it was looking a bit better despite the 0-2 hole.
Pittsburgh then took their game to a new level in Games 3 and 4, with a pair of 4-2 wins. Jordan Staal (the leagues best third line centre) scored what I believe was the series changing goal, with a shorty in Game 4 which turned the tide and fortunes of the Penguins (this declaration despite an embarrassing 5-0 throw away Game 5 loss). With the Wings set to repeat their six game series win from 2008 on Mellon ice, the boys dug deep and rode a bounce back strong effort from Fleury in a 2-1 win to send the final the distance.
I was a nervous wreck in the days leading up to Game 7. So close to victory, but just one bad bounce from a gut punch to end all gut punches. As a random side note, my sleeping patterns during the playoffs take on a disturbing tone, the likes of which haven’t been seen since Arsy witnessed the Undertaker style sleep I displayed in Thunder Bay (home to Jordan Staal no less!!!), but I digress.
On to Game 7 at Joe Louis Arena, where Krystal and I witnessed the epic Game 5 triple overtime win by the Pens’ to stave off elimination last year, so it WAS possible for them to win again on foreign ice. The experts were against them, the historic stats were against them (no team down 0-2 had won the Cup since 1971, and no North American sports team had won a championship Game 7 on the road since ironically, the 1979 Pittsburgh Pirates), but I knew they could do it. Sidney Crosby would not allow Hossa and the Wings to win again, and from the very start, you could see this was going to be a special night.
A scoreless first was pretty much dominated by Pittsburgh, who held a 10-6 shot advantage with most of the good scoring chances. Then a period that defined this teams run to glory, two immense goals by non other than Max Talbot (his second two goal game of the series), and another superb 20 minutes by the much maligned Fleury had the Penguins one period from Xanadu. Crosby as it turns out, wouldn’t factor in the deciding game after being hit by Johan Franzen on a borderline play, ending his night halfway through the middle stanza. It was at this point that I could no longer feel my extremities! And then the third began and the time just kept expiring with little to no fight from the Wings, and even Craig Simpson noted it on the CBC, the Wings were fading. But my nerves were not to be spared on this night, because after a fluky Jonny Ericsson goal with about 6 minutes remaining cut the lead to 2-1, it was nail biting time for the Duke.
Curse words, followed by pacing, followed by borderline praying, willed the clock down to under 10 seconds, but Detroit would still not die. One last face-off (for which the Pens’ reeked to high heaven in winning all game) would try the emotions one final time. Here is truthfully what I remember about what transpired: Wings win face-off, shit, shot blocked, yes, Zetterberg robbed point blank by Fleury, oh my, rebound, double shit, wide open net for Lidstrom, triple shit, oh what an F***IN’ save, it’s over, they won, they won, they won!! BEDLAM IN THE MAN CAVE, THE PENGUINS HAD JUST WON THE STANLEY CUP!!!! Tears of joy, shaking like a crack addict wanting a fix, and calling Krystal down to enjoy the moment followed. The phone was ringing off the hook too, I was shouting and basically losing all control of my emotions at that point to friend and family alike.
Then I realized that the trophies were about to be presented, and I needed to focus on that moment. Geno Malkin named the Conn Smythe winner with his 36 point effort — the first Russian ever to win the playoff MVP. Then a moment we as Pens’ fans have waited for 17 years to see, the Stanley Cup presented to another Pittsburgh captain, this time 21 year old Sidney Crosby — he of the media hyped junior career, the draft lottery to end all draft lotteries to see where he would play, the endless and mostly unwarranted bashing for his diving/whining, an Art Ross and Hart trophy in his second season, an injury plagued third season which ended in a heart breaking Cup loss to Detroit, and a two pathetic playoff beards to boot — that didn’t matter much now, he was a champion along with his teamates.
It was pure hockey heaven. I think the moment I enjoyed the most however was when Mario Lemieux finally took the silver mug after all the players and coaches had their moment with it, the look on his face was enough to choke me up one last time (still nobody better and loved from my point of view than 66!). The rest of the night was washed away with a plethora of booze pops and drinking from a home made Cup at Port Dovers’ finest watering hole, the Norfolk.
As ESPN’s The Sports Guy says, after your team wins a championship, you have a five year grace period, where really any amount of non-success doesn’t really matter. However I have a sneaky feeling this isn’t the last time we see Sid, Geno, and the boys skating around for the NHL’s top prize. This is the start of something pretty special, and I can’t wait to test my nerves year after year!
Star of the Round – Max Talbot
Star of the Playoffs – Krystal Leavey (for putting up with my antics!!!)