DETROIT – Slide over, Super Mario, and make room on the Stanley Cup for a new batch of Pittsburgh Penguins.
Max Talbot scored two second-period goals, and the Penguins overcame the loss of captain Sidney Crosby to beat the defending champion Detroit Red Wings 2-1 in Game 7 and win the Cup on Friday night.
Instead of the Red Wings becoming the NHL’s first repeat champion since winning titles in 1997 and 1998, this turned into a Penguins party. The last time Pittsburgh was crowned champion, in 1991 and ’92, it was captained by owner Mario Lemieux.
This one wouldn’t have been possible without a clutch diving save across the crease by Marc-Andre Fleury, who denied four-time champion Nicklas Lidstrom with 1 second left.
“I knew there wasn’t much time left,” Fleury said. “The rebound was wide. I just decided to get my body out there and it hit me in the ribs so it was good.”
Fleury was stellar in making 23 saves and erasing the memories of a 5-0 loss in Game 5 at Joe Louis Arena that put the Penguins on the brink of elimination. Pittsburgh returned home and gutted out a 2-1 win, behind Fleury’s 25 saves in Game 6, and forced the winner-take-all matchup.
“When you’re playing Game 7 for the Stanley Cup, and you’re playing at home, it makes it tough to lose,” Lidstrom said. “It’s devastating when you’re that close.”
The sting was especially strong for Marian Hossa, who spurned the Penguins after last year’s Cup loss and signed a less-lucrative, one-year deal with the Red Wings, the team he thought had the best chance to win.
“Sometimes you make choices. I still had a great year in this organization,” said Hossa, who had no goals in the series. “If you score one more, you can celebrate, but if not, they’re celebrating. That’s life. You just have to move on.”
Jonathan Ericsson cut the Wings’ deficit to 2-1 with 6:07 remaining, and Niklas Kronwall nearly tied it with 2:14 left, but his drive smacked the crossbar. Detroit pressed further after goalie Chris Osgood was pulled, but Fleury stood his ground.
His last save started a wild scene that culminated in the awarding of the Cup.
Crosby took it from NHL commissioner Gary Bettman and skated to center ice before handing it off to Bill Guerin, who joined the team from the last-place New York Islanders at the trade deadline and became a champion for the first time since 1995 with New Jersey.
“When I got traded to Pittsburgh, the Pens were in 10th and I was in 30th,” Guerin said. “We came together and bonded quickly.”
Lemieux, the No. 1 pick in the 1984 draft by Pittsburgh, celebrated on the ice with Crosby – the phenom who has been living in Lemieux’s house since joining the team. The Penguins are the second team to win two Game 7s on the road, following their second-round victory against Washington – a series they also trailed 2-0.
They turned the tables on the Red Wings and captured the Cup on enemy ice, just as Detroit did in Pittsburgh last year.
Evgeni Malkin, who led the playoffs with 36 points, won the Conn Smythe Trophy as the postseason MVP. He assisted on Talbot’s first.
Crosby, four years after being the No. 1 selection in the draft, became the youngest captain of a champion at 21.
He played just one shift after leaving the ice during the second period after taking a hard hit along the boards from Johan Franzen that left him unable to walk with a knee injury.
“It’s a dream come true,” Crosby said. “It’s everything you imagined and more. I would’ve loved to do it in four. It would have been a lot easier on the nerves.”
Malkin, the NHL’s leading scorer in the regular season and the playoffs, forced defenseman Brad Stuart into making a bad pass. Talbot intercepted the puck in front and fired it between Osgood’s pads at 1:13.
“Max came up with some big goals there,” Crosby said. “We don’t get to this point without everyone contributing.
“I knew the guys were going to find a way to pull it off.”
Talbot snapped a wrist shot from the middle of the left circle on a 2-on-1 that sneaked in under the crossbar to make it 2-0 at 10:07.
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