Never Say Die

It was do or die for the Pittsburgh Penguins in Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Finals against the Detroit Red Wings, and the Penguins, rebounding from a 5-0 blasting in Detroit on Saturday, live to fight one more day.

After Game 5 and in the two days leading up to Game 6, the Penguins absorbed Detroit’s onslaught, as well as criticism and faltering faith by the media and fair-weather fans. They still believed. They took responsibility for their poor performance and moved on, preparing for the game that would determine their fate.

Detroit brought their “A” game in spurts and at times for nerve-wracking duration in the Pens’ defensive zone, only to be stymied by the stellar play of Marc-Andre Fleury, including toe saves, repelling point-blank shots on break-aways, and incredible grace under the pressure of a post bounce and a sliding puck that ended up neatly on the front side of Fleury, trapped between his padded legs.

Taking Fleury’s early Game 5 exit personally, every player in front of him in Game 6 gave him the kind of help he needed and then some. Forwards back-checked hard. Defensemen fought in front of the net to keep Fleury’s vision clear. Strong penalty-killing and puck clearing, including the ever-effective Murphy Dump and strong forechecking added to Fleury’s confidence. The ultimate gesture of all-for-one-and-one-for-all came in the final minute of play. A crazy scramble in front of the Penguins’ net found Fleury down and helpless to the left of his post. An ever-vigilant Rob Scuderi as legal tender sprawled in front of the net to make at least three monumental saves in blinding and furious traffic.

From the start, this game was expected to be a close one, easily one goal to separate the victor from the vanquished. The second period has proven to be a rough one for the Penguins, particularly in Game 5, but they came out determined to make it a strong period. Sure enough, with :51 left in the period, Jordan Staal found his second momentum-changing goal of the series as he wisely chose to shoot instead of pass on a 2-on-1 breakaway with a distracting Matt Cooke flanking to his left. Wings goalie Chris Osgood made the initial stop, but the deflection found the quick stick of Staal who hit his own rebound behind Osgood glove-side as Staal’s own momentum was carrying him quickly past the net.

 A two-goal cushion is always preferable, and Staal’s regular linemate, Tyler Kennedy, came through  at 5:35 in the third period. It would prove to be gold as the Wings answered almost two and a half minutes later off a Kris Draper shot. The scoring ended there and was enough to bring the series to a 3-3 tie and force a Game 7 on Friday in Detroit. The Keeper of the Cup had to put away his polishing rag and pack it in because the Cup was not making the rounds just yet.

Additional Notables

  • Pens back to breaking through 30 shots on net (31). Bill Guerin and Tyler Kennedy led the team with 6 shots each; followed by Jordan Staal and Ruslan Fedotenko with 3 shots each.
  • 35 hits by 13 Penguins versus Detroit’s 26, and they were bone-jarring. Chris Kunitz and Matt Cooke as the Bash Brothers led the team with 5 hits each followed closely behind by Fedotenko, Brooks Orpik, and Sergei Gonchar with 4 each.
  • 11 takeaways versus Detroit’s 5.
  • Early dictation of the pace of play as well as puck-possession.
  • Disciplined play–keeping to only 2 penalties, both questionable calls.
  • Dead even with Detroit, winning 50% of their face-offs.
  • Strong play by the Staal line.
  • Inspired steals by Evgeni Malkin.
  • Even strength goals–something that had been of concern for the talking heads.
  • Zetterberg, Franzen, Datsyuk, Holmstrom, and Hossa were not only kept scoreless, they were kept pointless.

There’s a lot of debate among coaches, players, and pundits about momentum shifts at this stage in the season, but if the momentum has not shifted even slightly in the Penguins’ favor heading into Detroit, at the very least this win has given the Red Wings pause. The Penguins show time and again that they can take the hardest of hard knocks and come back more resilient than ever. They have now gone past last year’s benchmark. This is uncharted territory “fer sure” but they’re not trepidatious. They are boldly going where they haven’t gone before, and they’re loving it.

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