Saturday June 13th, 2009

DETROIT -- On the night of Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final, the hands of Max Talbot are just fine. Nine days after his linemate Evgeni Malkin jokingly remarked about him, "Yeah, little bit bad hands," Talbot scored twice in the second period, as the Penguins won the deciding game, 2-1 (RECAP | BOX), at Joe Louis Arena Friday night. "[But] he's still right about that," Talbot said, chuckling.

Winning the championship for the first time since 1992 against the team that defeated them just a year ago, the Penguins defied history, becoming the first team to win Game 7 on the road since the 1971 Montreal Canadiens. Malkin, who assisted Talbot's first goal, finished the playoffs with a league-high 36 points and earned the Conn Smythe Trophy for most valuable player in the postseason. The Pittsburgh center, who won the Art Ross Trophy with 103 points during the regular season, became the first player since Wayne Gretzky to capture both scoring titles in the same season in 1993.

After a scoreless first period, the Penguins jumped out early in the third, and about a minute into the second period, Talbot intercepted a tipped pass by Detroit defenseman Brad Stuart right in front of Red Wings goalie Chris Osgood. Catching him by surprise, Talbot shot the puck five-hole to give the Penguins the 1-0 lead. Talbot struck again midway through the period, cashing in on a 2-on-1 and lanching a wrister high glove side on Osgood to give the Penguins the 2-0 lead.

Did he ever in his wildest dreams think he'd score twice to win the Stanley Cup?

"No, definitely not," he said on the ice, basking in the chaotic moments after the win. "You know, I never thought that I would score two goals in the NHL."

It doesn't get any better than this, for this grinder whose clutch play earned him the nickname, The Gamer, by his teammates. "He just has a knack for playing so well in big games," defenseman Brooks Orpik says. "He does so many little things, and obviously his heart is huge. That's the biggest thing. He's willing to do anything to win.... And he likes the attention too. [And] he's definitely not short on confidence."

The goal, Talbot's fourth of the series, was a welcome answer to a potentially devastating hit Pittsburgh took about four minutes earlier. Red Wings forward Johan Franzen homed in on Pittsburgh's Sidney Crosby, playing the puck along the boards in the neutral zone. The Swedish forward laid a heavy hip-check on the Penguins captain, catching his left leg and putting it into the boards. Crosby skated off into the dressing room in apparent pain. "[He] jammed the outside of my knee," he said after the game. "I couldn't walk, really.... I tried numbing it as much as I could, and I still couldn't really skate that much."

The absence of the superstar center didn't seem to deter Pittsburgh, though. Jordan Staal, whose line had generated the most chances for the Penguins in the first, stepped up in his place, and kept Detroit's top scorers in check. Though Crosby returned to the game in the third period, he was limited to only one shift.

"You get to a point where you've got to ask yourself whether you're going to be, you know, hurting your team by being out there," Crosby said. "One misstep and I could cost the guys a lot of hard work. I didn't want to be the guy who did that."

As the Penguins lined up after the game to shake hands with their opponents, Red Wing Marian Hossa had to feel the pain of being on the losing side for the second straight year. Hossa, who chose the Red Wings over the Penguins in free agency last summer because he thought Detroit gave him a better chance to win the Cup, watched as his old teammates celebrated without him, irony lost on no one. The former Penguin had no goals and three assists in the final series.

The Red Wings had plenty of chances on Pittsburgh goalie Marc-Andre Fleury, but couldn't find much luck until the 13th minute of the third period, when Detroit defenseman Jonathan Ericsson beat Fleury underneath his glove to make it a one-goal game. And as the last minutes of the game passed, Detroit's chances continued to come. With a little over two minutes left, Niklas Kronwall threw a hard shot at Fleury but rang off the crossbar. At the next stoppage, Fleury turned to the net and gave the metal pipe a few loving taps -- a simple thank you.

No surprise that after six games, and as exciting and close a final as there's been in recent history, this one would be good to the last drop. With Chris Osgood out of the net and an extra attacker on for Detroit with just a minute left, Fleury stood tall, making key saves on Detroit's biggest two names in the last six seconds of the game. First, he denied Detroit's leading playoff scorer Henrik Zetterberg with his right pad, but left a rebound in the right circle, a favorite spot for Nicklas Lidstrom. The Detroit captain pinched in and elevated a shot into what looked like an open net, but there Fleury was. He hurled his body over to make a spectacular shoulder save. Though he's struggled here in the past, Fleury wasn't haunted by any demons in here Friday, putting on his finest performance of this postseason.

"I'm just so happy that he proved to everyone tonight that he's a winning goalie, and he can do it under pressure," Talbot said of Fleury, who faced criticism all series long for his spotty play.

But after it all, after the 82 games, the three series to get back to this point, the six games and 60 minutes on the ice, the Pittsburgh Penguins -- all of their hands, knees, heads and hearts -- are just fine tonight.

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