Exactly nine years ago, a game and an entire season came down to one faceoff. The Pittsburgh Penguins were a mere six and a half seconds from avenging their 2008 Stanley Cup Final loss to the Detroit Red Wings.
Penguins’ center, Jordan Staal lost the defensive zone faceoff to Red Wings’ captain, Henrik Zetterberg. Zetterberg found a way to deliver the puck to Brian Rafalski at the point, who fired a shot from the point. Penguins goalie Marc-Andre Fleury made a pad save and then another save on the rebound. The second rebound settled on the blade of one of the greatest defensemen in the history of the sport, Niklas Lidstrom.
Lidstrom fired the wrister, but the Penguin netminder propelled into the air like Superman, his chest absorbed the puck as time expired. The foretold future was officially the present, the young Penguins became Stanley Cup Champions.
Fleury may have been the savior in the final minutes, but the story of the game was Max Talbot. The charismatic depth forward opened the scoring just over a minute into the second period, then scored again nine minutes later thanks to his own defensive efforts, which created a two on one break.
Talbot and the Ride
Talbot was a menace for opponents during the entire playoff run, the Penguins had the Philadelphia Flyers on the brink in the first round but were down 3-0 in Game 6. They needed a spark, and Talbot’s job description was laden energy. Never was Talbot associated with a fighter but Flyers’ tough guy, Daniel Carcillo featured a potential opportunity for the conception of that characteristic.
Carcillo destroyed Talbot, but the showman “shushed” the crowd on his way to the penalty box. The Penguins bench responded to Talbot’s courage and the Penguins scored just 14 seconds later. The Penguins rallied to beat the Flyers, 5-3 and win the series.
Alex Ovechkin and the Washington Capitals were next on the docket, the Penguins dropped the first two in D.C., but strung together three straight wins before the Capitals forced Game 7. The Penguins dominated the game, 6-2 as Sidney Crosby’s two goals.
Evgeni Malkin alone could have knocked off the Carolina Hurricanes in the Eastern Conference Final. Highlighted by a spin-o-rama goal in Game 2, Malkin buried six goals over the four-game sweep.
The final hurdle was the juggernaut Red Wings; a team comprised of veterans and all-stars which beat the Penguins the year before. The Penguins managed to split the first four games but looked lost in Game 5. The Penguins gifted the Red Wings nine powerplay opportunities and the Red Wings capitalized on three.
The 5-0 Game 5 Red Wings win put the Penguins on the brink of elimination. Again.
Penguins regained their composure and won Game 6, 2-1. Fleury was brilliant and stopped 25 of 26 shots. However, Rob Scuderi made the biggest save of the game with a desperation block in the waning moments.
Trades, Losses, and Coach
Adding intrigue to the heavyweight rematch, was former Penguin, Marian Hossa. In the 2008 offseason, The Slovakian winger turned-heel on the Penguins, and signed with Detroit as claimed he had a better chance to win a Cup with the Red Wings.
Losing Hossa looked like a big loss that season, but the Penguins eventually filled the void by acquiring Chris Kunitz from the Anaheim Ducks and New York Islanders’ captain, Bill Guerin.
The Penguins also relieved head coach Michel Terrien of his duties at mid-season. Therrien’s successor, Dan Bylsma went 18-3-4, in the final 25 games of the regular season.
It was only a matter of time before the Penguins completed the NHL’s gauntlet. With a team core barely allowed to purchase beer, it looked like the Penguins would be celebrating every year. Instead, they waited exactly seven years before doing it again on, yes, June 12, 2016.
June 12th: Penguins Fan’s Christmas.