The NHL season has one final game remaining in the 2008-09 season.
The Penguins bounced back impressively from a 5-0 shellacking for one of their best team efforts and held off several late Red Wings charges to stave off elimination, 2-1, in Game 6 Tuesday.
Among the most notable Pittsburgh players who rebounded was goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury, who made 25 saves and was named the game's No. 1 star. He faced only three shots in the first period - yes, three - but two of them were great chances. Fleury came through with a big save each time.
Neither was bigger than in the game's final moments, when defenseman Brooks Orpik shanked a dump-in attempt after a faceoff win in Detroit's end that turned into a Daniel Cleary breakaway. If Cleary scores, it's a dagger in the heart of the Penguins and the Red Wings might well have gone on to win the game.
But, similar to what he did against Alex Ovechkin in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference semifinals, Fleury came through with a game-saving stop, and Pittsburgh survived Detroit's late push.
Another Penguin who has more than his share of critics provided a big-time performance. Jordan Staal, on a great effort, opened the game's scoring, and ended the contest with three hits and won eight of 14 faceoffs.
Tyler Kennedy chipped a puck past Chris Osgood - who played outstanding and kept the game from becoming a 5-0-type contest - for a two-goal lead, and the Penguins seemed to be in good shape.
Kris Draper got one goal back just a few minutes later, and Detroit earned two power plays in quick succession, but was unable to convert either chance. (Quick sidenote: Both teams committed more than two penalties in the game, particularly the Penguins. The referees might as well not be on the ice.)
Major kudos go out to Pittsburgh defenseman Rob Scuderi, who I wrote about recently as an unsung hero. Scuderi blocked four shots, including two in the waning seconds with Fleury out of the goal cage, and also batted away a loose puck before Nicklas Lidstrom could whack it into an open net earlier in the third period.
Pittsburgh responded in Game 6 exactly the way it needed to. The Penguins out-shot the Red Wings, 12-3 in the first period, and limited Detroit to nine shots in the second period - plus got a break when Henrik Zetterberg hit the post.
Tuesday's was the first real elimination game in the finals for the Penguins, but essentially, they've now played three. If they lost either Game 3 or 4, this series would be over. Now the Red Wings get to play in an elimination game as well, but they have the comfort of playing at home, and Joe Louis Arena has been a house of horrors in the postseason for Pittsburgh. The Penguins won a regular season game there this season but have scored just two goals in three games in the finals. Take away Game 5 last year, and in five postseason games, Pittsburgh has scored...two goals in Detroit.
And, of course, the last time the Joe hosted a game, the Penguins fell into an abyss of misery and undisciplined penalties. Maybe they've gotten their bad game(s) out of their system.
Everything will be decided Friday.
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