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March 25, 2019
by Michael Menser Dell, Editor-in-Chief
Iím truly at a loss for words. As a sports fan, Iíve never experienced a more satisfying victory. Iíll be writing stuff all weekend, but letís start with Game Seven.
A fitting end to a classic series, Game Seven is already legendary. Two great teams battled to the final horn, with Pittsburgh needing a little luck and a miraculous save from Marc-Andre Fleury in the final seconds to prevail.
Itís funny how the bounces evened out over the course of the series. The Penguins couldnít buy a break in Games One and Two, but Zetterberg rang the pipe in Game Six, and Kronwall drew iron late in Game Seven.
And what can be said about Fleury? I couldnít be happier for the kid. No one deserves this more than the Flower. His critics, and they are numerous, always said he couldnít win the big game, pointing to his gaffe at World Juniors and his bouts of inconsistency to support their scurrilous charges.
Well, thatís done. Itís over. No one can ever question Fleuryís ability to win the big one. He just did. In Detroit. Against the defending Stanley Cup champs.
Fleuryís defining moment came late in Game Six when he stoned Dan Cleary. That was the pivotal moment in not only the series but his career. Fleury stood tall when his team needed it most. Talk about the soft goals and questionable stick work all you want. Fleury makes big saves in key moments to win games. Thatís who he is, thatís what he does. And thatís why his nameís on the Cup.
Fleury was brilliant in Game Seven. Detroit came out flying, hitting everything that moved and generating some premier scoring chances, but the Flower didnít rattle. He made a spectacular poke-check to deny Valtteri Filppula on what I thought was a sure goal. Just the way the play unfolded, the flow it had, it seemed destined to end up in the net. I still canít understand how it didnít. Iíd like to show the clip, but NHL.com doesnít have it for some reason. But hereís Fleury flashing the glove a few minutes later to rob Kirk MalbyÖ
After weathering the storm in the first period, Fleury and the Pens started to take control in the second. They got pucks deep and fired up the forecheck. The pressure led to Brad Stuart handing the puck to Max ďSuperstarĒ Talbot, who made a nifty little hesitation move before slipping a shot between Chris Osgoodís pads for the 1-0 lead.
Obviously, getting the first goal had colossal significance. But the good times didnít last. Only four minutes later, disaster struck.
Chris Kunitz chipped a puck up the wall, and Kid Crosby barely touched it on its way to center. Keep in mind, Crosbyís touch came on Pittsburgh side of the blue line. That didnít stop Johan Franzen from finishing a hip check on him out near center red, a full two seconds and some 20 feet after Crosby tipped the puck.
How is that not interference?!? His left knee smashed, Crosby could barely make it off the ice. Worse yet, the classy Detroit crowd cheered the injury, providing the Wings with a surge of emotion. A mere 46 seconds later, before the Pens could even recover from seeing their hobbled captain limping from the field of battle, Hal Gill got whistled for holding. The Stanley Cup dreams were crumbling.
This was the turning point. The crucible to end all crucibles. Lesser teams would have folded. Not these Penguins. They murdered the penalty without giving the Wings a sniff of the net. Talbot, Craig Adams, Brooks Orpik, Sergei Gonchar, Matt Cooke, Jordan Staal, Mark Eaton, and Rob Scuderi did the honors.
The controlled kill silenced the Detroit crowd and energized the Pens. Not long after, Stuart made another mistake, stepping up to hold the line against Kunitz. The gritty Penguin winger managed to sweep the puck ahead to create a two-on-one for Talbot and Tyler Kennedy. Talbot kept the puck the whole way, racing in on left wing and lacing a wrist shot over Osgoodís glove.
Incredible shot by Talbot. Going top right corner from the left circle like that is the toughest shot to make for a lefty. It has to be perfect. And Talbot buried it. But what do you expect from a superstar like him? Chicka chicka woo.
Detroit made a ferocious push at the end of the second. The Pens were hanging on for dear life and only another remarkable save from Fleury in the final seconds prevented Zetterberg from halving the 2-0 lead.
Pittsburgh went into full rope-a-dope mode in period three. Crosby returned to the bench and tried to take one shift with about 10 minutes left, even winning the draw, but he simply couldnít skate. Without Crosby around to eat minutes and set the pace, the undermanned Penguins gave up the forecheck and sat back to try and protect the lead.
It worked until 13:53. Thatís when the Pens got hemmed up in their own zone and Nicklas Lidstrom fired the puck from the left boards all the way across to Jonathan Ericsson at the right point. Ericsson rocketed a one-timer into the top right corner over Fleuryís glove. Yes, sir, the Pens like to make it fun.
Of course, the first thought that went through my mind was, ďHere we go again.Ē While Ericsson deserves a ton of credit -- one-timing an 80-foot pass isnít exactly easy -- the goal came out of nowhere. It wasnít exactly a great scoring chance. Tough to call it soft. The puck knuckled and dipped and still somehow found the corner. If it was a clean drive, Fleury eats it up with the glove. Itís just one of those things.
But it planted the seed. That insidious hint of doubt. And it brought the Joe Louis crowd to life. The clock couldnít tick fast enough. The first 10 minutes of the period sprinted by, but the final six took forever. Three stoppages in the final minute, not to mention two false faceoffs, only prolonged the agony.
In the end, it came down to a draw in the right circle of the Pittsburgh zone with 6.5 seconds remaining on the clock. Surprisingly, Dan Bylsma elected not to call his timeout. He left it up to fate.
Staal, Talbot, Adams, Scuderi, and Gill against Zetterberg, Datsyuk, Franzen, Holmstrom, Lidstrom and Rafalski.
With Crosby unavailable for the draw, Zetterberg beat Staal and won the puck back to Rafalski at the right point. Rafalskiís shot hit Gill on the way to the net and fell right at the feet of Zetterberg, who ripped a low wrister on net. Fleury went butterfly and got it with the right pad, but the rebound kicked into open ice in the left circle.
In a moment eerily similar to Mario Lemieuxís game-winner on Ed Belfour in the waning seconds of Game One of the 1992 Finals, Lidstrom swooped in and pounced on the loose biscuit. Fleury shuffled across on his knees and lunged chest-first to smother the shot.
No better way to end it than with Fleury, the target of so much ridicule, coming up with two enormous saves, first on Zetterberg and then on Lidstrom. Thatís what champions are made of.
He wasnít disrespecting the Wings. If anything, the Wings disrespected him. Nicklas Lidstrom showed the class of a champion, waiting for Sid to come to him, but I guess he got tired and split. He does have a fractured Charlie Brown. Draper, Hossa, and a slew of other Wings bailed. Once Crosby realized what was going on, he hustled over to shake hands with Zetterberg, Osgood, Babcock, and everybody else.
Hey, guess what, Wings? You lost. You wait for the winners. The winners donít hurry up for you. Crosby wasnít being a jerk. He was celebrating with friends and family. Itís his moment. Not Detroitís. Heís never won a Stanley Cup before. But donít worry, Iím sure heíll master the intricacies of the victorious post-Cup handshake. Heís going to have lots of practice.
I mean, what kind of a man loses to a team in the Stanley Cup Finals, takes less money to sign with that team, and then insults his former teammates on the way out the door? Hossa is aÖ no, Iím going to be gracious in victory.
Hossa knows what he did. Now heís going to have to live with it. And the rest of us can live with thisÖ