The Pittsburgh Penguins pushed themselves and the Detroit Red Wings to the limit on Monday night. Now they have a chance to push the Stanley Cup final to the limit.
Leading 3-1 in the best-of-seven series and 3-2 in Game 5, the Red Wings were just 35 seconds from winning it all for the fourth time in the past 11 seasons.
But with the Stanley Cup in the hallway and the champagne on ice, the Penguins tied it 3-3 in the final minute of regulation and won it on Petr Sykora's goal 9:57 into the third overtime period.
"I hadn't touched the puck the whole game," he told reporters Tuesday in Pittsburgh. "I didn't have a real shot, I didn't have a scoring chance."
Better still, Sykora predicted between periods he would score.
"When it happens, you cannot believe it," said Penguins forward Maxime Talbot, who tucked the puck behind Red Wings netminder Chris Osgood for the tying goal that forced OT.
"You're like, 'Oh my, he called it.' It was great."
"I didn't feel I was going to score," Sykora admitted. "But I had to get them a little looser out there and make a comment like that — give the guys a little laugh in the locker room — and I'm not complaining that it worked."
Detroit's reaction was one of utter disbelief after having outplayed the Penguins and outshot them 58-32.
"It is nice to be close to it [a championship]," Red Wings head coach Mike Babcock said. "Be nicer to have it.
"You knew it was going to be a battle and it is. I think the disappointment phase ends about 15 minutes when you're out of the room.
"When you get up in the morning, the sun gets up and so do we and we're up 3-2. Let's play."
Kris Draper, Tomas Holmstrom, Nicklas Lidstrom, Kirk Maltby and Darren McCarty were ready to be sized for a fourth championship ring, having won Stanley Cups with the Red Wings in 1997, 1998 and 2002.
But Penguins netminder Marc-Andre Fleury, who yielded seven goals on 70 shots in Games 1 and 2 at Detroit, made 55 saves in Game 5, including 24 in overtime, to extend the series.
"It is a lesson learned," Babcock said. "They're good players and it won't happen again."
"It was definitely a tough one last night," said Penguins captain Sidney Crosby, who notched two assists.
"But we're just happy to really still be playing. I think any time you go through something like that [and] come out with a win, to see the way everyone kept battling and didn't give up, it certainly means a lot to everyone.
"We're still here, still battling. We still have an opportunity."
'The road is a great thing'
Game 6 goes Wednesday night (CBC, CBCSports.ca, 8 p.m. ET) at Mellon Arena, where the hometown Penguins have gone 9-1 this post-season.
That said, Detroit clinched the three previous playoff series on the road, and prevailed 2-1 in Game 4 at Pittsburgh.
"I think being on the road is a great thing," Babcock said. "We have closed out every series on the road."
The Penguins welcome home-ice advantage because they are a battered lot, with several key players nursing injuries.
Pittsburgh forward Ryan Malone was struck in the face by a slapshot, but five stitches and a few chipped teeth later, he returned in time to provide the screen on Sykora's winning goal.
"It is pretty amazing, the price and the sacrifice that a lot of those guys have to pay," Penguins head coach Michel Therrien said.
Penguins defenceman Brooks Orpik, who blocked 10 shots, four fewer than the entire Red Wings team, suffered from dehydration and cramped up so badly in OT that he had to receive fluids intravenously to keep playing.
"The biggest thing is you never want to feel like you are letting your teammates down," he said. "You just got to battle through it."
Fellow rearguard Rob Scuderi was clipped in the chin by Red Wings forward Juri Hudler, whose four-minute penalty for drawing blood resulted in Sykora's goal.
And Sergei Gonchar, who caught a skate and crashed into the end boards in the second period, shook off back spasms to man the point on the winning power play in the third OT.
"A real gutsy effort by him," Orpik said.
With three defencemen hurting, Ryan Whitney led all skaters in ice time, playing 50:46 of the nearly 110-minute epic.
"I think your body can take way more than you think," Talbot said. "Yes, it takes a lot of energy.
"But it just feels great because you don't think about the pain or being tired. You just think of being in Game 6 now and you just think about that."
Only the 1942 Toronto Maple Leafs have erased a 3-1 deficit in the final to win the Stanley Cup — rallying from 0-3 to beat none other than the Detroit Red Wings.