It’s hard to believe, but today marks the 10th anniversary of the Penguins Game 7 triumph over the Detroit Red Wings to clinch the third Stanley Cup in franchise history and first of the Sidney Crosby/Evgeni Malkin era. Ten years have gone by in the blink of an eye, so let’s take some time and flashback to that fateful night at Joe Louis Arena in Detroit.
After winning Game 6 and forcing the deciding Game 7, the teams had two days off to travel and practice before the most important 60 minutes of their lives. For fans, this just meant two days of never ending nerves and anticipation hoping for the best but expecting the worse.
At this point, the Penguins franchise had been in existence for over 40 years but they never found themselves in this position, playing in a Game 7 with the Stanley Cup on the line. Sure, they played in a Game 7 against the Capitals earlier in that playoff season but given the history it was almost an expected victory. This was brand new territory for the Penguins and their fans, and the closest they had been to winning the Stanley Cup since 1992.
Little did we know at the time, but while fans were nervously waiting for game time, Penguins owner Mario Lemieux was typing out a text message that will forever go down in Penguins lore.
“This is a chance of a lifetime to realize your childhood dream to win a Stanley Cup. Play without fear and you will be successful!! See you at center ice. Mario”
You get chills just reading that message. If the Penguins lose that night, we probably never hear about that message, but they won, and it will forever remain with us when we think about that night.
All of the nervous anticipation continued to build and it wasn’t going to suddenly disappear once the puck dropped. No one outside of Pittsburgh was picking the Penguins to win this game. Not on the road. Not against this Red Wings team. Good thing the Penguins didn’t mind any attention to the critics.
8 PM. Puck drop. Game on.
Not much to write home about scoring wise in the first period, but that’s because Marc-Andre Fleury and Chris Osgood were on the top of their games in the early going. Nearing the halfway point of the opening period, Osgood stoned Jordan Staal on a good look from right in front of goal to keep the game scoreless.
In the dying minutes of the first period, it was Fleury’s time to shine. Off a draw in the Penguins zone, a misplay by Rob Scuderi allowed Kurt Maltby a great look on net but Fleury came up huge with a glove save to keep the teams level.
First period comes to a close. Penguins 0, Red Wings 0.
This is where things started getting fun, especially if you were a Penguins fans. Just over a minute into the second period, the Penguins break the ice. A turnover and fortuitous bounce off the skate of Evgeni Malkin lands on the stick of Max Talbot, he gives Osgood a little deke and slides it five hole.
1-0 Penguins. 18:47 remaining in the second period.
Turns out leading in Game 7 doesn’t settle the nerves, only makes them worse.
Just when thing were looking good for the Penguins, everything seemed to come crashing down in the blink of an eye. While chasing a puck out of the zone and up the boards, captain Sidney Crosby was angeled off by Johan Franzen and had his knee caught awkwardly between Franzen and boards.
Not great. Crosby slowly hobbles to the bench as the arena roars. Momentum seems to shift in an instant and worst case scenarios start popping into your head immediately.
Shortly after, the Penguins are whistled for a penalty and the lead looks to be in peril. Down a man, the penalty kill steps up with a massive kill and Hal Gill is set free from the box with no damage done.
Killing the penalty pushes momentum back in the Penguins favor and they take advantage. Chris Kunitz sweeps the puck out of the zone and sets up a 2-on-1 between Max Talbot and Tyler Kennedy. Talbot has two options, take a shot or try and pass the puck over to Kennedy. Talbot chooses the former and picks the corner on an out of position Osgood.
2-0 Penguins. 9:53 remaining in the second period. Is this really happening?
Oh by the way, while this is all taking place, the Penguins best player is sitting on the bench injured and no one knows what his status is for the rest of the game. Five minutes earlier, it felt like everything was about to come crashing down. Now, the Penguins were up 2-0 with less than half of the game left.
No lead in hockey is safe, especially one against this Red Wings team on their ice knowing they will be playing desperate the rest of the way. You hope the Penguins can just survive the rest of the period and get to intermission.
These were about to be the longest 20 minutes of your hockey life. You knew the Red Wings were going to throw the kitchen sink at the Penguins and that’s exactly what they did. They could have comfortably played that entire period without Osgood in goal.
Sidney Crosby is on the bench but sitting at the very end, reduced to a spectator for the remained of the game. After sustaining his injury in the second period, Crosby took one more shift before his night came to an end. It was up to his teammates to pick him and deliver the goods.
It’s an all out assault from the Red Wings for almost the entire third period and it starts right from puck drop. Mark Eaton takes a penalty and the puck barely leaves the zone but the Penguins kill it and survive.
Detroit keeps coming in waves every shift but the Penguins hold the fort. Fleury doesn’t blink. For all the criticism Fleury received during his time in Pittsburgh (some of it deserving), he was absolutely unflappable in this game.
Just over six minutes left and it’s starting to feel real, but the Red Wings will not go quietly into the night. More sustained zone pressure leads to a point shot from Jonathan Ericsson. The puck flutters through the air and Fleury can’t track it.
2-1 Penguins. 6:07 left in the third period. It was never going to be easy.
If the Red Wings didn’t have all the momentum before they sure have it all now. They have six minutes to save their season.
Evgeni Malkin registers the Penguins only shot of the period with four minutes left. It’s a long blast from the blue line that Osgood easily turns aside. In total, the Red Wings outshoot the Penguins 8-1 in the third period but it feels more like 28-1 with all the pressure the Wings are applying.
At this point, the Penguins are hanging on for dear life. Then it happens. The moment we should have known it really was meant to be.
Kronwall. Crossbar. Death approaches.
In the moment I swore it was in. It wasn’t. All that matters is it stayed out. Pens survive another scare.
Time continues to drain at a snail's pace. Osgood is long gone from the net but it doesn’t really matter because they Penguins can barely get the puck past the blue line much less all the way down the ice. Eventually the clock turns to seconds instead of minutes.
A fortunate whistle gives the Red Wings one last offensive zone face-off to the left of Fleury. Jordan Staal and Henrik Zetterberg tangle up on the draw, the puck is pushed back to Brian Rafalski who puts a shot towards the net and it’s blocked. Zetterberg finds the loose puck and throws it on goals but Fleury turns it away with his pad...directly into Nicklas Lidstrom who is staring at a wide open net.
Fleury slides across and says not today. Horn sounds. The Pittsburgh Penguins have won the Stanley Cup.
To this day, I’m still not sure exactly what I felt in the moment, but it was some mix between pure joy and absolute relief. For the first time since 1992, the Penguins were Stanley Cup champions.
When the horn sounded, players on the ice mobbed Fleury in the crease while others poured off the bench to join them. Victory was like a cortisone shot for Crosby who did not hesitate to join the party.
Once the initial high subsided, the Penguins gathered themselves and lined up to shake hands with a much deserving Red Wings side who gave them everything they could handle. Crosby was surrounded by media and well wishers and was unable to shake every Red Wings players hands. Kris Draper is still mad about that probably.
Once that was taken care of the real party could start. Evgeni Malkin was awarded the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP.
Then came the big prize we all had been waiting 17 years to experience. NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman invited Crosby forward and presented him with the Stanley Cup.
What a moment. What a team. What a memory. Hard to believe it’s been ten years since this night. When it happened, I think everyone thought we were going to be celebrating like this on a regular basis. Looking back shows just how naive we were to think that. Makes that night even more special. In a way, it also makes you appreciate 2016 and 2017 a little more. Here’s to hoping we can do it again very soon.
You can watch the full 14 minute highlight video from the NHL below:
And because you can never have too many pictures from that night: