For the fourth time in 11 seasons, the Detroit Red Wings are the Stanley Cup champions. They used experience and grit to knock out the young up-and-coming Pittsburgh Penguins on Wednesday night with a 3-2 victory in Game 6 of the finals.
Following in the footsteps of Gordie Howe and Steve Yzerman, new captain Nicklas Lidstrom led the Red Wings to the title. Detroit's 11th NHL championship team is the first in league history to be captained by a European.
"I've been over here for a long time and I watched Steve Yzerman hoist it for three times in the past," the Swedish defenseman said. "I'm very proud of being the first European. I'm very proud of being a captain of the Red Wings."
The celebration came two nights later than expected. The Penguins forced the series back to Pennsylvania by tying Game 5 with 34.3 seconds left in regulation and winning it shortly before 1 a.m. in Detroit on Petr Sykora's power-play goal in triple overtime.
Undeterred, the Red Wings wrapped up their fourth straight series on the road in these playoffs. Detroit is third in NHL titles, trailing fellow Original Six clubs Montreal and Toronto.
It was the best night for Swedish hockey since the national squad won the gold medal at the 2006 Turin Olympics. Along with Lidstrom's achievement, Henrik Zetterberg, who had a goal and assist in the Cup clincher, earned the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP.
Just like in Game 5, things got a little dicey for the Red Wings, who allowed Marian Hossa's power-play goal with 1:27 remaining that got the Penguins to 3-2. Pittsburgh had already pulled Game 5 hero Marc-Andre Fleury to create a 6-on-4 skating edge.
With the final seconds ticking down, Penguins captain Sidney Crosby put a backhander on goal that Hossa just missed with a tip at the right post.
"I knew it was a good backhander," goalie Chris Osgood said. "I tried to get as far out as I could, and it ended up hitting my arm. I think time had ran out before it started rolling over the side of the net. I was happy to see the ref yell time was up."
That set off a pile-on celebration behind the Detroit net as the disappointed fans in Mellon Arena saluted their club once more with a chant of "Let's Go Pens!"
"I don't know how many seconds were left, but when I saw the puck behind the net, and I looked up and it was 0:00 on the game clock, I was a pretty happy man," Zetterberg said.
His goal 7:36 into the third period, that was pushed in by the backside of Fleury, extended the Red Wings' lead to 3-1. He tied teammate and countryman Johan Franzen for the playoff lead with 13 goals, and matched Crosby for the postseason scoring crown with 27 points.
Lidstrom is one of five players to be with the Red Wings for their four most recent titles (1997, 1998, 2002, 2008). He handed off the Cup to forward Dallas Drake, a champion for the first time in 14 seasons.
"I started thinking about it actually in the first round," Lidstrom said. "I didn't tell anyone about it, but I started thinking about if we were to go the whole way, who should be the guy I gave it to first."
Crosby came close in his third NHL season to adding a Stanley Cup to his resume that already includes a scoring crown and a league MVP award.
Only one team that trailed 3-1 in the finals came all the way back to win the Cup, the 1942 Toronto Maple Leafs against Detroit. Pittsburgh was trying to become the seventh to force a Game 7
"It's not a fun time, but we've got to remember this feeling for sure," a red-eyed Crosby said. "We left it out there and obviously we wanted to leave everything out there on the ice and see what happens. We had our chance."
Brian Rafalski gave Detroit a 1-0 lead in the first period with a power-play goal, and Valtteri Filppula doubled it in the second for the Red Wings, who had 30 shots. Osgood made 20 saves and improved to 14-4 in the playoffs after taking over for goalie Dominik Hasek in the first round. Osgood allowed only 30 goals in 19 games and posted back-to-back shutouts in the first two games of the finals.
Detroit earned its final two victories of the championship series in Pittsburgh, where the Penguins won their first nine postseason games. Until the Red Wings came to town, the Penguins hadn't lost at home since February and were 12-2 in the postseason.
Fleury, brilliant in making 55 saves Monday in Pittsburgh's thrilling 4-3 win in triple overtime, couldn't repeat that performance. Filppula's rebound goal 8:07 into the second period was certainly one he'd like to have back along with the Zetterberg's winner.
Fleury blocked the snap shot from the right circle, but the puck trickled between his pads and came to a stop in the blue-painted crease. The 23-year-old netminder dropped to his backside and knocked the puck in before it could be swept away by his defenseman.
"Marc-Andre got us to where we were," defenseman Darryl Sydor said. "He's played outstanding. Those are just bounces that happen in a game. Everybody thought he had it. What do you do? There's not much that can be said. You've got to be proud of him."
After Filppula converted a juicy rebound to make it 2-0 in the second, the "white-out" clad crowd tried to muster up a "Let's Go Pens!" chant. The stifling Red Wings defense took as much out of the fans as it did the Penguins' usually potent offense.
Pittsburgh shots were blocked, passing lanes were closed off, and the puck seemed to be constantly on the sticks of the Red Wings. That is until an interference call was made against Pavel Datsyuk, who protested the penalty all the way to the box.
That set up the goal the Penguins have been waiting for all season, the one from NHL MVP finalist Evgeni Malkin, who hadn't scored since the clinching game of the Eastern Conference finals.
Malkin, coming off a season in which he had 47 goals and 106 points, had been pointless until he set up Sykora's overtime goal Monday. This time, Crosby found him in the left circle with a cross-ice feed, and Malkin ripped a shot between Osgood's pads to cut the deficit in half at 15:26.
Rafalski struck first just 5:03 into the game, giving the Red Wings the critical 1-0 lead - an advantage that proved to be the precursor of the winning team in all but one game.
The Dearborn, Mich., native in his first season with the hometown Red Wings was in line to have the Cup-winning goal when he gave Detroit a 3-2 lead in the third period of Monday's marathon.
Sykora wrecked those plans, but nothing could deny Rafalski after two failed clearing attempts by Penguins defenseman Rob Scuderi. It was the fourth goal of the playoffs for Rafalski, a two-time Cup winner with New Jersey.
Although Malkin got Pittsburgh back in it with a power-play goal, it was a blown 5-on-3 advantage in the first period that really set the tone for the Penguins' ouster.
With Drake already off for charging, Kris Draper joined him in the box 27 seconds later for roughing. That set up a two-man power play for the second time in the series. Both came with the Penguins down by a goal, and both ended with Detroit's lead still intact.
Notes: The victory parade is set for Friday. ... Detroit had at least 30 shots in every game of the finals. ... The Penguins failed to reach double digits in shots in the final 13 periods of the finals. ... The Red Wings were 13-1 when scoring first in the playoffs.