DETROIT – Game, set, match, Pittsburgh Penguins.
For all the pre-game prognostication out there the past three days, Game 7 and the Stanley Cup championship was going to boil down to goaltending.
It’s always all about the goaltending so why should a game for all the marbles be any different?
Marc-Andre Fleury at less than exceptional wasn’t going to be enough for the Penguins. Similarly, an ordinary Chris Osgood would easily eliminate Detroit’s home ice edge.
The playoff magic for would-be Conn Smythe Trophy winner Osgood vanished Friday and the Pittsburgh Penguins skated away as Cup champions.
At the other end, it was one of those nights for Fleury.
The electricity of a Game 7 in Hockeytown kept Joe Louis Arena rocking in the conservative early minutes. Detroit’s Dan Cleary had the game’s first scoring chance converting a Henrik Zetterberg pass into the pads of Marc-Andre Fleury on the opening shift. The demons of a disastrous Game 5 loss out of his system, Fleury’s composure in Detroit was back.
Osgood didn’t face his first real test until halfway through the first when Jordan Staal and Tyler Kennedy had chances from close range. The Wings stopper was poised on both stops and that set the tone for eight more saves in the opening frame.
It has often been said Osgood is little more than an average starting goalie during the regular season and reasonably solid in the playoffs, two of them leading to Cup victories for the Wings. In this playoff season, he was a superhero.
Until Game 7.
Max Talbot opened the scoring early in the second period taking advantage of a Brad Stuart giveaway in the slot, shifting to his left and beating Osgood between the legs. Then, nine minutes later with Sidney Crosby in the dressing room with an apparent knee injury, Talbot put the Penguins ahead 2-0 with a shot to the top corner over Osgood’s glove hand.
Not softies by any means in Osgood’s defense, but certainly difference makers had he been able to stop them. Had that been the case, they would have been termed “outstanding” saves and Joe Louis Arena would be vibrating.
Meanwhile at the other end, Fleury was stopping everything directed his way, mostly from the periphery. His toughest test in the second period was through a screen on a Nicklas Lidstrom slapper from the point on a Detroit power play.
In the final three minutes of the middle frame, Detroit’s best players left it all on the ice and Fleury wouldn’t dint. Blasts from Zetterberg, Lidstrom and Valtteri Filppula were turned aside either by the goalie or defenders. Zetterberg was stymied from the doorstep again with two seconds remaining on the second period clock.
It was more of the same in the third period. Pittsburgh did a great job stopping Detroit shots and chances from getting through. The ones that did, Fleury handled like a champion. Only a rising slapshot from Jonathan Ericsson with six minutes remaining beat Fleury.
With Crosby playing just one shift in the third period, the Penguins were in shutdown mode, not managing a shot on Osgood until the 16-minute mark.
Fleury a big-game money goaltender? He proved it in back-to-back games against the defending Stanley Cup champions and his reputation has been altered forever.
For Osgood, a spectacular Game 7 would have clinched the Smythe for him as well as his fourth Cup (third as a starter). It would have also made him a lock for the Hockey Hall of Fame some day. That storyline, like another Red Wings championship, was made to wait another year.
THN Shootout: Pens prevail
From the road in Detroit, host Ken Campbell and Pittsburgh Penguins’ color commentator Phil Bourque discuss... The Pens' remarkable turnaround… Pittsburgh’s ability to overcome adversity… The similarities between Evgeni Malkin and Mario Lemieux… And the likelihood of the Penguins contending for the Stanley Cup for years to come. PRODUCER: Ted Cooper
Click HERE for post-game interviews.
THN is on the road following the Stanley Cup final and will file daily reports until a champion is crowned. To read other entries, click HERE. Also, check out THN.com's regular video roundtable, the THN.com Shootout for updates from both Detroit and Pittsburgh.
Brian Costello is The Hockey News’s senior special editions editor and a regular contributor to THN.com. You can find his blog each weekend.
For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, Subscribe to The Hockey News magazine.