Commentary

As Game 5 dust settles, Pens and Wings figure out new finals landscape

Updated: June 3, 2008, 9:45 PM ET
By Scott Burnside | ESPN.com

PITTSBURGH -- It is less than 24 hours after the Pittsburgh Penguins' dramatic, improbable 4-3 triple-overtime victory over the Detroit Red Wings, and both teams have emerged like people from a bomb shelter, all squint-eyed and trying to take stock of what just happened back there.

Indeed, a game like the one that unfolded over the course of five hours Monday night and early Tuesday morning often takes a while to absorb and process. So many ebbs and flows, moments big and small, went into the final accounting; so many things to consider and try to put into place in the light of day.

Like Pittsburgh netminder Marc-Andre Fleury.

Sure, he turned aside 55 shots, including a left toe save for the ages on Mikael Samuelsson that kept the Penguins alive in overtime. But Fleury's most significant act of defiance might well have been before the game began, when he squirted water at Al Sobotka, the octopus-swinging Joe Louis Arena employee who incites the crowd from behind the visiting net before every home game.

Fleury was seen giving Sobotka a little liquid "hello" just before the opening faceoff. The ever-cheery Fleury paused when asked about it at Mellon Arena on Tuesday afternoon.

More from the Cup finals

• The Detroit Red Wings were called for three penalties in overtime, the last of which resulted in the winner for Petr Sykora (right) in the third overtime session. The first two were goaltender interference calls against Henrik Zetterberg and Dan Cleary.

Detroit coach Mike Babcock was asked what he thought of the calls, and after hemming and hawing for a moment, he didn't think much of them.

"I don't have any idea. What do you say? If you were me sitting here, tell me, what would you say?" Babcock said. "I'll jump on the soap box. We talk about scoring more goals in the National Hockey League. 'We want more goals.' No, they don't; don't tell me that. I've never seen anything like that in my whole life."

He then took a shot at Penguins coach Michel Therrien, who has complained of the Wings obstructing Penguins players, saying maybe he should do the same thing.

"I'm going to try what the other guy has been trying all series," Babcock quipped.

• Sykora, whose triple-overtime winner was his first goal in nine games, had a night to remember. First, he called the goal between periods in overtime, telling NBC analyst Pierre McGuire he had one in him. Then, he delivered. And finally, he delivered the line of the night. When asked about how the players kept going during the long overtime, Sykora said he ate some pizza. Asked who delivered the meal, Sykora quickly answered, "Domino's."

The Red Wings, of course, are owned by pizza magnate Mike Ilitch of Little Caesar's fame.

-- Scott Burnside

"It was an accident. I just missed my mouth by a little bit," Fleury said. "I don't know. It was just at the game, he does it to us [swinging the octopus]. And after the first two games, I thought I'll give him a little something back. And we won, so it's good."

If Game 5 was like a meteor crashing into the Stanley Cup finals landscape, then there are two groups gathered on opposite sides of the debris trying to assess what happened, and more to the point, what's next.

In Pittsburgh, where the Penguins held an optional skate Tuesday, there is a sense that they survived something that maybe they had no business surviving, and there's pressure not to let that go to waste in Game 6 on Wednesday night.

"It's nice to talk about the game and everything, but it won't mean anything if we don't win Game 6," said Max Talbot, one of a handful of Pittsburgh heroes to emerge from Game 5. "So yes, you think about this, but on the other hand, there's still a lot of work to do."

It was Talbot, a rugged fourth-line center who has impressed throughout the playoffs with his joie de vivre and his hockey sense, who banged home a loose puck to tie the game with 34.3 seconds left in regulation.

So, how did it feel to be back at the rink in Pittsburgh just a few hours later?

"Yeah, I haven't woke up too long ago," Talbot said. "But yes, you go to bed late and you play a lot of hockey, but there's some more hockey to be left, to be played. So obviously, mentally, you feel good and you know that you have to focus on Game 6, and physically you just try to do what's going to make you feel better. But I think, physically, it's more mentally than anything, if you can understand what I'm saying. Because I can't."

For Pittsburgh, the issues might be more physical than mental.

Sergei Gonchar, often underappreciated because of his quiet demeanor, is expected back in the lineup for Game 6 after suffering severe back spasms late in the second period as a result of crashing headfirst into the end boards trying to break up a Detroit scoring chance. The training staff worked on him through the first two overtime periods. He was too tender to play 5-on-5, but came back to the bench in the event of a power-play opportunity in the third overtime period. Jiri Hudler was called for high-sticking Rob Scuderi, and Gonchar went over the boards and helped set up Petr Sykora's winner at the 9:57 mark.

Ryan Malone, another inspirational performer from Game 5, was having X-rays on his battered face Tuesday, but Penguins coach Michel Therrien said he would be very surprised if Malone wasn't in the lineup Wednesday.

Therrien's decision to have Talbot on the ice in the waning seconds of the game may have taken some of the pressure off the coach, who has been criticized in some quarters during the finals for his handling of ice time and line combinations. Not that Therrien was taking any satisfaction from that Tuesday.

"You know what? It's not about me. It's about my team," he said. "It's about my players and it's about our plan. So I respect opinions from people. I've got my own, and we've got our plan, and we're going to stick to our plan."

If the Penguins must regroup physically, the Red Wings must regroup mentally.

Throughout the playoffs, we have ascribed certain robotic tendencies to this team, and with good reason. They have been precision-like in advancing to within a game of their fourth Stanley Cup since 1997. They wobbled in the middle of the opening round, losing two straight to Nashville when Dominik Hasek was still the starting goalie. Then, they dropped two straight to Dallas in the Western Conference finals after building a 3-0 series lead. But the Red Wings rebounded in both situations to close things out. They have won all three series on the road and have dominated all five games of this finals series for long stretches of time. They outshot the Penguins 58-32 on Monday and 27-6 in the third period and first overtime session.

Still, the fact of that matter is, Hockey Hall of Fame curator Phil Pritchard put on his white gloves and took the Stanley Cup out of its container and got it polished and ready to present to Detroit captain Nicklas Lidstrom. Now, it's back in the box, and the outcome of the series is not nearly so evident.

"Afterwards, you might breeze through your mind a few times that you're close, but you can't really do anything about it after," Detroit netminder Chris Osgood said Tuesday. "There's no way you can take it back. There's just no reason to dwell on it because you can't change what happened. All you can do is look forward to the next game and prepare yourself. But you think about it for a second, yeah; but that was it, really."

Still, they wouldn't be human if they didn't think for a moment about just how close they came to closing this out in front of their home fans and how they must now prepare to face a team with new life and a 9-1 record on home ice this postseason.

"It's nice to be close to it. Be nicer to have it," Detroit coach Mike Babcock said with a smile. "What can I tell you? It's a game like all games. You've got to do good things. We had the puck at the red line with one minute left, bounced over one of our sticks. We had the puck in our own zone with 35, 38 seconds, whatever it was. We didn't execute in that situation. That's also part of the game.

"In their building the previous game, they had a 5-on-3. We were able to survive and win that game. And I think that's how fine a line it is."

Babcock believed his team was nervous to start Game 5 and that nervousness led to an uncharacteristic number of turnovers and allowed the Pens to open up a 2-0 lead in the first. Babcock said his players weren't angry, but disappointed.

"I think the disappointment phase ends about 15 minutes [after] you're out of the room," Babcock said. "For me, it was when I got home, talked to my wife for a second; she was disappointed, too. Like I said, when you get up in the morning, the sun gets up and so do we, and we're up 3-2. Let's play."

Scott Burnside is the NHL writer for ESPN.com.