Sykora Calls His Shot


The NHL Closer is written by five insomniacs from Melt Your Face Off. We blame overtime hockey and copious amounts of caffeine for our condition. Raskolnikov downed two cases of Mountain Dew to recapitulate last night's epic thriller.

Supposedly, Babe Ruth pointed to the center field bleachers at Wrigley Field before hitting a home run on the very next pitch. What little proof we have of that event actually taking place is based on a grainy photograph and some old men who swear that it happened. This dubious evidence leads me to believe that the whole event never happened. On the other hand, I know that Petr Sykora said that he'd win the game for Pittsburgh, then he buried a power play goal in the third overtime to give the Penguins a 4-3 win.

Pittsburgh started the game in an inauspicious manner by committing back-to-back penalties. Brooks Orpik hooked Valteri Filppula 2:06 into the first period, but Detroit only managed two Nicklas Lidstrom blue-line slap shots. Nine seconds after Orpik was released, Therrien sent six players onto the ice, resulting in another Red Wings power play. Nevertheless, no damage was sustained, as Detroit committed a penalty of its own one minute later.

From that moment forward, the visiting Pens dominated the rest of the period. Tomas Holmstrom's neutral zone turnover led to Pascal "Don't Call Me Pascual, Ed Olczyk" Dupuis's entry into the Wings' zone. Marian Hossa's first shot attempt hit Chris Osgood's right shoulder, but Dupuis gathered the puck along the right wing boards, passed to Sidney Crosby behind the net, who found Hossa open in between the face-off circles. Hossa's wrist shot over Osgood's blocker put the Pens up 1-0.

Six minutes later, Adam Hall scored another fluke goal. After shaking free of Johan Franzen behind the net, he centered the puck, hoping for a Penguin teammate to shoot it. Instead, Niklas Kronwall picked off the pass. The Swedish defenseman, possessed by the spirit of Nicklas Backstrom, accidentally roofed the puck over Osgood's shoulder. All signs pointed to a dominant performance by the Penguins and a sure trip back to the Civic Arena.

Ahh, how twenty minutes of screaming and fortitude questioning can change everything. Detroit responded to whatever Mike Babcock said by playing the smothering, omnipresent trap that for which they're known. Two minutes into the second period, Kirk Maltby stopped Rob Scuderi's clearing attempt at the Pittsburgh blue line, passed to Darren Helm along the left wing boards, who let go a shot. Scuderi dove to block the shot, but he did not deflect the shot back to its target. Instead, he redirected the puck perfectly in between Marc-Andre Fleury's legs, resulting in a goal for the Wings.

Although no other goals were scored in the second period, the increased tempo resulted in multiple consecutive rushes by both teams. Multiple odd man rushes by both teams forced Osgood and Fleury to make outstanding saves after one goalie's team failed to score on the opposite end, including Fleury's acrobatic left toe save on a Detroit two-on-one with just under three minutes remaining in the second period. Immediately afterward, Sergei Gonchar, Pittsburgh's power play quarterback, crashed headfirst into the boards. He was not seen for the remainder of the period. Ryan Malone was also forced to the dressing room after a Hal Gill shot hit him in his broken nose.

The third period saw the return of Malone and Gonchar to the Pens' bench, but their presence mattered little to the Red Wings. Zetterberg and Datsyuk worked their magic on the power play, with the Swede's slap pass to the Russian, who tapped it in between Fleury's pads to tie the game. Three minutes later, Detroit took the lead on a Brian Rafalski snap shot off a Gonchar turnover. Rather than sink into a passive trap, Detroit continued to punish Pittsburgh once the former took the lead. Only Fleury's flailing limbs kept the score 3-2. After the final commercial break in the third period, NBC cut to Mike Bolt's livelihood, the Stanley Cup, being pulled out of its case.

A simple person would consider the previous act a jinx on the events that follow. I say that Detroit softened too quickly and could not handle Pittsburgh's adrenaline rush. Fleury skated to the bench with under two minutes to go in the third period. With 48 seconds remaining, Evgeni Malkin, who had been lost for the entire game, dumped the puck past Detroit's four men along the blue line. Franzen controlled, but lost the puck to Crosby along the right boards. He passed to Hossa in the right corner, who flung the puck at the net. Osgood left a juicy rebound for Max Talbot, whose second attempt tied the game and silenced the Joe Louis Arena. A late flurry of shots by the Red Wings was unable to end the game.

Detroit dominated the tempo during the first overtime, forcing Fleury to stop 13 shots, many which were not directly at the skating penguin on his chest. MAF stopped consecutive Kirk Maltby wrist shots on a Detroit odd man rush, a Datsyuk shot from the slot and Filppula's rebound, and a backhand off Zetterberg's stick. The Pens were granted a brief reprieve when Zetterberg was called for goaltender interference, but Pittsburgh was unable to capitalize on the referees' gift. A second overtime would be needed.

Pittsburgh played much better in the second overtime, outshooting Detroit eight to seven. They received another gift when Dan Cleary was called on another questionable goaltender interference call. However, Osgood and his teammates shut down the ensuing power play, including a nice turnaround slap shot by Malkin. Fleury still had the tougher saves, including a flashy glove save on Cleary that saved Pittsburgh's goose again. Sykora claimed that he would score the game-winning goal around this time, but before he was the hero, he hooked Niklas Kronwall in the Red Wings' zone with a little over two minutes remaining in the overtime. Thankfully, the Pens shut down the power play with few problems.

Nine minutes into the third overtime, the referees called a fair penalty on Detroit. Jiri Hudler, in an attempt to steal the puck from Rob Scuderi, clipped the Pittsburgh defenseman on the chin and drew blood, setting up a four minute power play. Gonchar, who had not played since his third period gaffe, returned to play the point. He set up Sykora for a one timer from outside the right face-off dot that traveled well wide of Osgood, but the puck hit the referee and came to Malkin, who passed to a streaking Sykora and the game was over.

Those of us who watched the entire ordeal may have feared the indifferent alarm clock this morning, but our memories of this game will last longer than that pounding headache. Both teams scratched and clawed their way back from deficits, and the third period caused headaches for fans on both sides. Best of all, we get to watch at least one more playoff hockey game.

Linkdump

An interview with Sidney Crosby and yesterday's hero. [Kukla's Korner]

Is Ron Wilson coaching the Leafs next year? [ San Jose Mercury News]

Finally, the Knob Hockey guys are at it again. I loved Tomas Holmstrom and Marc-Andre Fleury as those annoying twins in Ocean's Eleven!