Even without the services of captain Sidney Crosby for more than half the contest, the Pittsburgh Penguins stood tall in winning the Stanley Cup for the third time in franchise history Friday night.
Centre Max Talbot scored both goals, sending the Penguins to a 2-1 win over the defending champion Detroit Red Wings in Game 7 at Joe Louis Arena.
Pittsburgh secures the franchise's first championship since the Mario Lemieux-led Penguins of 1991 and 1992.
The Penguins also become the first road team since the 1971 Montreal Canadiens to begin a Stanley Cup final 0-2 yet still win it all in the seventh and deciding game away from home.
"It's a dream come true," said Crosby, who took a congratulatory call from Prime Minister Stephen Harper following the win.
"It's everything you imagined and more. I would have loved to do it in four, it would have been a lot easier on the nerves. It was so hard watching the clock tick down for that whole third period.
"But everything it took to win, we did it. Blocking shots, great goaltending, different guys stepping up. I mean, we did exactly everything it takes to win."
While Talbot provided all the offence the Penguins would need, goaltender Marc-André Fleury preserved the win with some heroics in the final seconds of the game.
Fleury made 23 saves on the night — none bigger than the one he made in the dying seconds of the game with Pittsburgh clinging to a one-goal lead.
With 6.5 seconds left, the Wings won the draw and crashed to net.
Fleury saves the day<img src="/includes/promos/promo/sports/images/200-fleury.jpg" width= "200" height= "112" border= "0">[/CUSTOM]
He may not have skated away with the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP, but goaltender Marc-André Fleury is a major reason the Pittsburgh Penguins are Stanley Cup champions.
Fleury made 23 saves in helping lead the Penguins to 2-1 victory Friday night against the Detroit Red Wings in Game 7 at Joe Louis Arena.
"Just to win that thing [the Stanley Cup] is a dream and that's all that matters," an elated Fleury told Hockey Night In Canada.
An NHL championship didn't seem possible for Fleury and the Penguins after they were shut out 5-0 in Game 5.
Fleury was pulled in that game after a shaky performance, appearing to be shell-shocked in watching the Wings take a 3-2 series lead.
But the former 2003 No. 1 overall pick responded in a big way. First, he robbed Dan Cleary in Game 6 on the breakaway with less that two minutes remaining Tuesday night at Mellon Arena to secure a 2-1 victory.
Fleury saved his best performance for Friday night, making several key stops. The most lasting image came in the final frantic seconds of the third period.
With the Penguins on the cusp of clinching the Cup, Fleury made a diving stop to the right of Pittsburgh's net off the stick of Detroit defenceman Nicklas Lidstrom.
"We've been friends forever and it's just a great relationship," said Penguins centre Max Talbot, who scored both Pittsburgh goals. "I told him when I got the first goal, I told him, 'I got the game winner, you gotta keep it for me.' And he did it."
Fleury even had a sense of humour regarding the shot Detroit defenceman Niklas Kronwall took with more than two minutes remaining that rang off the crossbar.
"It [the crossbar] made a big save for me and I just said 'Thank you,'" said Fleury, who rubbed the iron after dodging a key bullet.
Fleury made the initial save, but the rebound went right to Detroit defenceman Nicklas Lidstrom. Criticized for his play during the three previous games at Joe Louis Arena, Fleury dove to his right to block the Lidstrom shot with his arm.
"Flower [Fleury] made some great saves," said Talbot. "Everybody sacrificed their body. That's how you win championships."
Malkin earns playoff MVP
Centre Evgeni Malkin earned the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP after notching 36 points. Malkin, registering an assist on the first Talbot goal, is the first Russian-born player to win the award.
"Big day in my life," Malkin told Hockey Night In Canada while his teammates carried the Cup around the ice. "My friends are happy, I'm happy."
Malkin is also the first player to win both the regular season and playoff scoring race in the same year since Hall of Famer and Penguins owner Mario Lemieux completed the feat in 1992.
Crosby, who finished with 31 points in the post-season, hurt his left knee after taking a hard check from Wings centre Johan Franzen along the boards in the second period. He returned for only one 32-second shift of the final period.
"[He got] the side of my knee," admitted Crosby. "It's hard to watch. I don't recommend anyone trying watch the Stanley Cup final, Game 7 from the bench. It's a tough situation."
Remarkably, the Penguins won anyway.
Crosby, 21, was healthy enough to receive the Stanley Cup from NHL commissioner Gary Bettman and raised it above his head — becoming the youngest captain to win an NHL championship.
"[The Cup's] actually a lot heavier than I thought," said Crosby. "It's so worth it. Our team battled so hard throughout the whole year and, being on the losing side last year, this is an amazing feeling."
Pittsburgh, which lost to the Red Wings in the Stanley Cup final last season, could challenge for Lord Stanley a few more times with this young group.
Fleury was selected with the first overall pick in 2003, while Malkin was taken the following season with the No. 2 selection. The Penguins found good fortune once again in 2005, winning the lottery and picking Crosby No. 1. The team concluded its draft bonanza by plucking Jordan Staal at the No. 2 spot in 2006.
"It wasn't an easy series but we felt if we won Game 6 that we had a chance here [Friday] night," said Lemieux, who savoured the moment by continually kissing the Cup.
"Any time you have Sidney Crosby on your team and [Evgeni] Malkin, [Marc-Andre] Fleury and [Jordan] Staal, it's a great balance."
Knee injury knocks Crosby out in 2nd
Detroit, meanwhile, played in its seventh Game 7 final but is now 3-4 during that time. The Wings failed in their attempt to win a fifth championship in 12 years.
Defenceman Jonathan Ericsson snapped Fleury's bid for the shutout with a goal in the third period. Detroit goaltender Chris Osgood stopped 16 shots.
The Penguins drew first blood just 1:13 into the second period following a great effort by Talbot.
Racing behind the Detroit net, he forced Wings defenceman Brad Stuart to turn the puck over, off Malkin's skate. Talbot picked up the loose puck in front before slipping a shot between Osgood's legs.
The goaltenders remained on top of their game around the five-minute mark of the period. After Fleury stopped Darren Helm from the slot, Penguins winger Matt Cooke blocked defenceman Brian Rafalski's shot to create a partial breakaway, only to be stopped by Osgood.
The Penguins then lost Crosby at 5:30 into second after Franzen drove his left knee into the boards, forcing Pittsburgh's star to hobble to the dressing room.
Unfazed, Talbot struck again at 10:07 as the Pittsburgh centre broke in on a two-on-one break and fired a perfect wrist shot over Osgood, giving the Penguins a 2-0 advantage.
"Hey, I still have bad hands," said a smiling Talbot. "These two goals don't improve my stick-handling skills.
"But I don't care about the two goals. We won the game."
Forward Chris Kunitz made the play possible by winning a battle with Stuart near the boards.
"Those were two nice goals," Osgood said of Talbot's performance. "I complimented him when we shook hands."
The Wings finally broke Fleury's shutout bid with 6:07 remaining in the third. Ericsson blasted a one-timer off the feed from Lidstrom that Fleury misjudged.
Detroit couldn't complete the comeback, thanks in large part to Fleury's brilliance down the stretch.
Perhaps Wings winger Marian Hossa, held without a goal in the series, may have taken the loss harder than any other member of his club. Hossa played for the Penguins last season, but opted to sign a one-year with Detroit during the off-season because he felt the team from the Motor City had a better chance to win the Stanley Cup.
"Regret? I don't have any regrets," said Hossa. "Whether you like it or not, there's going to be pressure. It squeezes you. It's very difficult to play like that."