By Allan Muir, SI.com
The Pittsburgh Penguins were never opposed to the idea of the Stanley Cup being presented in Detroit. They just preferred that it would be after Game 7.
Thanks to Petr Sykora's power play goal at 9:57 of the third overtime, the Pens earned a 4-3 win in Monday's Game 5 marathon and postponed the Red Wings' plans to celebrate their 11th Cup championship on home ice. With this stunning upset, the series returns to Mellon Arena on Wednesday night for Game 6. A win there, and the Pens can assure that the Cup will be awarded at Joe Louis Arena.
Only then, they'll have a chance to claim it themselves.
It was a night of dramatic twists and memorable turns, none more unlikely than the emergence of Sykora as the overtime hero. Largely ineffective for all but the final moments of the fifth-longest game in Cup finals history, Sykora came through just 36 seconds into a four-minute power play created when a tired Jiri Hudler highsticked Rob Scuderi -- after promising on national TV to deliver the winner. Cruising into the faceoff circle to the left of Chris Osgood, Sykora one-timed a crisp pass from Evgeni Malkin -- another player rumored to be in the lineup for the entire game -- over the Detroit goalie's shoulder.
And so the bubbly was taken off ice, the men with the white gloves packed away the silver mug for a flight to Pittsburgh and the throngs of Detroit faithful went home bitterly disappointed. It was an amazing turn of events for a game that the Red Wings appeared to have salted away with another dominant third-period performance. That is until Max Talbot sent it into overtime as the Pens' net stood empty and just 34.3 ticks remained on the clock.
It was a thrilling conclusion for a contest that the Penguins controlled early and then frittered away. Taking their first two-goal lead of the series on markers by Marian Hossa and Adam Hall -- courtesy of a Niklas Kronwall own-goal -- it appeared as though the visitors were finally catching a few breaks of their own, aided by a Detroit side that uncharacteristically seemed determined to cough up the puck at every opportunity. With Pittsburgh's forecheck buzzing and winning battles consistently, the home side was lucky not to be trailing by three or four after the first period.
But even as the wobbly Wings found their footing early in the second, Pittsburgh's savior began asserting himself as a player intent on changing the course of the series.
Not the Kid (Sidney Crosby), although he was pretty good himself until exhaustion began taking its toll in the second overtime period. No, the extension of their season can be attributed almost wholly to goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury. Playing with the type of cool authority envisioned by the team when he was selected first overall in 2003, Fleury used the night as his personal coming out party, stopping 55 of the 58 shots Detroit's trigger-happy snipers fired at him.
Even as Pavel Datsyuk and Brian Rafalski scored within a 2:40 span midway through the third to give the Wings a 3-2 lead, Fleury was at his larcenous best. After top defender Sergei Gonchar was sidelined following a nasty spill into the boards, the backpedaling Pens were outshot 27-6 over the third and fourth frames.
At that point, Fleury wasn't the last defense. He was the only defense.
And his play justified whatever you spent on your DVR. These were stops that had to be seen again to be believed. Back-to-back saves on Datsyuk and Valtteri Filppula in double OT? Sensational. Smothering Tomas Holmstrom's spin-around backhander? Astounding. The glove save on Daniel Cleary's in-close rebound? Heart-stopping.
And if it weren't for stops like the instant-classic, cross-crease pad block late in the third on Mikael Samuelsson, Pittsburgh simply wouldn't have stuck around long enough for the hard-working, fast-talking Talbot to contribute his last-minute heroics.
The Pens showed plenty of grit, and just enough offensive touch, in denying Detroit its party. But they also came to a conclusion. Even if much of their gunpowder weren't wet, they'd still need stellar netminding from Fleury to match up with the experience and precision of the Red Wings. Having seen what he has to offer, the guys in that room have to be feeling pretty good about the next contest.
The Pens still have issues, including not shooting the puck often enough, failing to generate any kind of consistent presence in front of Osgood and, Sykora's winner notwithstanding, negligible production from their second line.
But they got the one shot they wanted most, and that comes on Wednesday night.
After losing Game 4 at home, the chances of coming back from a 3-1 series deficit looked pretty grim.
But coming back from down 3-2? The Pens will take those odds.
Allan Muir is the senior editor of Beckett Hockey magazine and the NHL's official scorer at Dallas Stars home games.