NHL

Talbot, Sykora get Crosby's Pens to Game 6

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Al Strachan

Veteran sportswriter Al Strachan is a hockey contributor for FOXSports.com and appears regularly on "Hockey Night in Canada," "The Score" and Sirius Radio. He is the author of "Go to the Net" and the coauthor of Don Cherry's "Hockey Stories and Stuff".MORE>>
   
 
Of the many attractions of professional sport, the greatest attraction is its unpredictability. It's what adds mystique to every game. A whopping point spread can be overcome. A sure winner can become a loser. There are those who might argue that it's the ability of the athletes that provides the attraction. But with even the best players, there's never any guarantee on any given day that they'll exhibit that ability. On the other hand, the game you're about to watch may be the one in which they break a longstanding record. So perhaps it shouldn't come as any surprise to find the Pittsburgh Penguins still alive today. Unless you're a hard-core Penguins fan, there was no reason to think that this would be the case. Pittsburgh's home unbeaten streak was ended by the Detroit Red Wings on Saturday. Similarly, the Penguins lost that game after scoring the first goal. That hadn't happened before in the playoffs either. So after putting those two unpredictable factors together and with Detroit having built a 3-1 series lead, it seemed almost certain that the Wings would win the Stanley Cup on Monday night. After all, in their previous two trips to Joe Louis Arena, the Penguins hadn't even scored a goal, let alone won a game. And the veteran Wings, with their stacks of champions rings, seemed like a sure bet to wrap it up. With the Wings playing at home, knowing that the Cup was in the building, very few impartial observers expected anything but a Detroit victory. The Penguins started with a couple of early goals, but there were many self-assured, I-told-you-so nods around the continent when the Wings erased that lead and went in front in the third period. Then, it was just a matter of shutting down the opposition, something no team does better than Detroit. The Cup was out of its case, ready to be wheeled onto the ice. Less than a minute remained in the game. Pittsburgh goalie Marc-Andre Fleury was on the bench and Detroit's Johan Franzen had the puck on his stick. All he had to do was clear it out and the Penguins would be hard pressed to mount another attack before time ran out. But the Penguins kept the puck in and set up a play identical to one seen on Saturday night. On that occasion, Sidney Crosby was at the side of the net when the puck came to him for what appeared to be a sure goal. But Henrik Zetterberg made a magnificent defensive play, blocked Crosby's stick and the Wings survived. On Monday, Maxime Talbot was in the same place at the same time with the same situation. But on this occasion, there was no Zetterberg. With 34.3 seconds remaining in regulation time, the Penguins had tied it up. It's hard for an outcome to be more unpredictable than that. With all the big gunners on that Pittsburgh team, it was the relatively unheralded Talbot who kept Pittsburgh's hopes alive. But even then, the smart money was still on Detroit. The Wings still had overtime and they were still outplaying the Penguins handily, a fact reflected by the shot count at that point — 34-18 in their favor. The territorial domination continued through the first overtime and the second overtime, even though Detroit had to kill off a pair of goaltender-interference penalties awarded on plays that were astonishingly innocuous. The Wings outshot Pittsburgh 24-14, for a game total of 58-32. But finally, in the third overtime, with Detroit's Jiri Hudler serving a four-minute minor for high-sticking, Petr Sykora, who had been invisible for most of the series and especially for most of this game, scored on a play that was kept alive by a judicious puck-bounce off a referee. So now, despite odds that were heavily stacked against them, the Penguins are heading back home for a game six in a series in which they have been out-hit, out-shot and out-scored. More than that, the margins aren't even close. Still, in the only area that really matters — games won — the margin is very close. Even so, most observers think the Penguins can't hold on much longer. They point to the Wings' depth and experience. But too much has happened for there to be any degree of certainty about what happens next in this unpredictable series.
Tagged: Red Wings, Penguins, Petr Sykora, Henrik Zetterberg, Jiri Hudler, Johan Franzen, Sidney Crosby, Marc-Andre Fleury

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