Praise be to Gordie Howe I wasn't stuck in the Shorewood Legion last night, or else I would have missed possibly the best hockey I've seen since Game 2 of the 1987 Canada Cup Final between Canada and Russia.
I was at that contest in Hamilton, Ontario, and when Wayne Gretzky fed a pass to Mario Lemieux, who then beat goaltender Sergei Mylnikov ten minutes into the second overtime period for the 6-5 win, I thought the roof was going to come off of Copps Coliseum. It was Lemieux's third goal of the game, and Gretzky's fifth assist.
(I missed Game 3, another 6-5 Canada win, because Alex Chilton was playing at the El Mocambo in Toronto.)
There was no such ovation last night in Detroit when the Pittsburgh Penguins' Petr Sykora fired one in on the short side against Red Wings goalie Chris Osgood halfway through the third overtime, but Lemieux, who now owns the Penguins, was considerably pleased.
Lemieux's team was facing elimination but now the Stanley Cup Final Series returns to Pittsburgh for a sixth game tomorrow night. The Penguins still face elimination but with the momentum and the home ice advantage, it's more likely they'll force a seventh and deciding game back in Detroit on Saturday.
Prior to last night's tenacious win, Pittsburgh was down three games to one in the best of seven series, and nobody has returned from that deficit in a Final Series to win the Stanley Cup since the Toronto Maple Leafs did it in 1942 — against the Detroit Red Wings.
Pittsburgh jumped to a 2-0 lead in the first period, the second goal being a bit of luck when Detroit's Niklas Kronwall bounced the puck into his own net off a Penguin skate.
But the Red Wings battled back, scoring once in the second period and twice in the third, and they were polishing up the Cup* backstage when the Pens' Maxime Talbot banged one on a second effort past Osgood with just 34 seconds left in regulation time.
The first overtime period was all Red Wings, and Penguins netminder Marc-Andre Fleury had to turn away 13 shots, many in a spectacular fashion. Meanwhile, the Penguins only managed two shots on Osgood (shots on goal were 58-32 in favor of Detroit overall).
Finally at 9:21 of the third overtime, Detroit's Jiri Hudler took a highsticking penalty that drew blood from the Pens' Rob Scuderi, giving Pittsburgh a four-minute man advantage. Thirty-six seconds later, Sykora, who earlier had promised to score the winning goal, did exactly that, after passes from Evgeni Malkin and Sergei Gonchar.
The assists were especially significant as Malkin has been struggling the entire series, constantly handing the puck over to Detroit, and Gonchar had spent all of the overtime on the bench after taking a scary headfirst tumble into the boards during the third period.
Game six goes tomorrow at 7 p.m. Milwaukee time. Hockey doesn't get much more compelling to watch than it was last night but it probably will before this series is over.
* I've been told repeatedly that "Lord Stanley's mug" is the worst cliché in sportswriting.