Dallas Drake of the Detroit Red Wings celebrates with the Stanley Cup after defeating the Pittsburgh Penguins. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
PITTSBURGH - Nick Lidstrom handed the Stanley Cup to Dallas Drake first, and now it's on to Hockeytown.
The Detroit Red Wings are champions for the fourth time in 12 years. Brian Rafalski, Valtteri Filppula and Henrik Zetterberg scored in a 3-2 victory that gave Detroit the series over the Pittsburgh Penguins four games to two Wednesday night. "It was just a great effort by everyone," said Lidstrom, the outstanding Swedish defenceman who became the first European to captain an NHL title team.
Commissioner Gary Bettman handed Lidstrom the silver trophy, telling him it was his "to take to Hockeytown."
Drake of Rossland, B.C., finally earned a Stanley Cup ring to cap his 16th NHL campaign.
"I can't believe it," said Drake. "We've got a tremendous group of guys who want to win more than anybody I've been around.
"I just can't be more thankful right now."
Many of the Red Wings said the will to win for the 39-year-old Drake was an inspiration that drove them to work for it as hard as they could.
"It was great to see him skate around with the cup," said goaltender Chris Osgood, who is from Peace River, Alta., and will be taking the Stanley Cup home when he gets his turn with it.
Danny Cleary of Riverhead-Harbour Grace will be the first player from Newfoundland and Labrador to have his name etched on the Stanley Cup.
"It's great to be part of history," said Cleary. "It's something to be really proud of.
"I'm proud to be from Newfoundland. I can't wait to bring it home so the kids can see it and touch it. If a kid from Riverhead can do it, they can do it. I want the kids of Newfoundland to believe they can achieve a lot of good things."
Evgeni Malkin and Marian Hossa scored Pittsburgh's goals in the finale.
Detroit outshot Pittsburgh in all six games including 30-22 in the finale. That made it 222-142 overall.
Zetterberg, who was named Conn Smythe Trophy winner, accumulated a franchise-record 27 points in Detroit's 16-6 playoff run with an offence that also got big boosts from fellow Swede Johan Franzen and from Russian Pavel Datsyuk.
"It was a battle, for sure, but it's a great feeling right now," Zetterberg said after being named playoff MVP.
The blue-line corps featuring five-time Norris Trophy winner Lidstrom was outstanding, and Osgood was steady as a rock in the nets after replacing a slumping Dom Hasek in the first round.
General manager Ken Holland built a swift and highly-skilled roster ideally suited for this NHL era of zero tolerance of obstruction fouls, and coach Mike Babcock implemented systems that featured forechecking and backchecking that frustrated opponents.
The experience factor helped, too. Eleven Red Wings with 24 Stanley Cup rings, compared to three Penguins with four rings.
"When you have players who've been through it before, it helps," said Lidstrom. "We didn't get rattled.
"We felt confident as a group."
Detroit's 2-0 edge after two games also loomed large. Teams winning the first two games of the final at home were 30-1 in pursuit of the Stanley Cup previously and, as hard as the courageous Penguins tried, they couldn't climb out of the hole.
Pittsburgh was 29th in the 30-team league just two years ago but are a powerhouse now.
"They're going to be a great team for years to come," said Zetterberg.
It's merely a matter of time before Sidney Crosby is standing where Lidstrom was after Game 6, but that possibility was no consolation Wednesday night.
Crosby and some of his teammates were in tears as they absorbed the reality of the loss.
"We left it all out there," said Crosby. "We wanted to make sure we did that.
"That's the way we played all season. The guys have been through a lot and battled through it. It doesn't surprise me that guys never gave up. We got a chance at the end and couldn't put it in - inches, really. They're strong. There's no doubt. There's a reason why they're champions."
"It's tough," added Penguins forward Maxime Talbot. "We came here to win. We didn't miss out by much. Give the Red Wings credit. They did what they had to do."
If there was one player the Pens could have used more from, it was Malkin. The Russian was second in league scoring with 106 points during the regular season and had 19 points through three rounds of the playoffs, but he managed only one assist before getting his lone goal of the six-game final. He added a second assist, and third point, on Pittsburgh's final goal of the playoffs.
Pittsburgh had extended the series with a goal with 35 seconds left in the third period that led to a 4-3 triple overtime win in Detroit on Monday, but the Red Wings weren't about to let the Stanley Cup be ripped out of their hands a second straight game.
"That was devastating," Zetterberg said of the Game 5 setback. "We didn't want that to happen again."
Rafalski opened the scoring on a power play at 5:03 after Darryl Sydor was penalized for interference for knocking Kirk Maltby to the ice away from the puck. Zetterberg fed a pass to Rafalski at the top of the circle to the right of Marc-Andre Fleury and Rafalski's shot caromed off Hal Gill and into in the net on Fleury's glove side. Tomas Holmstrom was screening Fleury.
Both teams entered this game with a win-loss record of 12-1 when scoring first, so it was a huge goal.
Detroit escaped a two-man disadvantage after Drake was sent off for charging Ryan Whitney at 8:28 and Kris Draper was nabbed for roughing at 8:55 for knocking Sergei Gonchar from behind and into the end boards.
"That was huge," Zetterberg said of the penalty kill.
It was only the fourth time in the post-season that Pittsburgh trailed after one period. Detroit was 12-1 when leading after one.
Crosby was crushed against the boards by Brad Stuart in the third minute of the second period and was bent over in pain after making it back to the bench, but he was soon back into the action.
Filppula made it 2-0 at 8:07. Fleury stopped a long Mikael Samuelsson shot and left a juicy rebound. Filppula put the puck between Fleury's legs. Fleury would have loved to have had that one back.
Malkin made it 2-1 on a power play. With Datsyuk off for interference, he blasted a slap shot from the circle to Osgood's right that sent the puck through the goalie's legs as he dropped to his knees.
The Penguins were coming on, but Detroit had gone 13-0 during the playoffs when leading after two periods, while Pittsburgh had a 1-4 record when trailing after 40 minutes.
The Red Wings, best in the league defensively all season, checked the Penguins to a standstill in the third period.
Zetterberg, shooting from the circle to the right of Fleury, made it 3-1 at 7:36 of the third on another one Fleury should have stopped. He got a piece of the puck but it dribbled behind him. He plopped down in the crease hoping to smother it, but he knocked it into his net for his 13th goal of the post-season.
Pittsburgh got only one shot on Osgood through the first 16 minutes of the third. But the Penguins would get one last chance: Jiri Hudler was penalized for hooking with 1:47 left, and Fleury was replaced by an extra skater for a two-man advantage.
Gonchar took a long shot that Hossa got a piece of to help it get past Osgood with 1:27 left, setting up a tense finish.
"When they scored their second one, we knew it was going to be tight right to the end," said Zetterberg.
Fleury stayed on the bench. The Penguins pressed and Crosby nearly scored with one-half second left, but Osgood got a piece of the puck to keep it from going in.
"When I saw 0:00 on the clock, I was a happy man," said Zetterberg.
The Penguins downheartedly trudged off to their dressing room.
"The hockey gods were not on our side tonight," said coach Michel Therrien. "(The Red Wings) deserved to win the Stanley Cup.
"We got beat by a quality team."
Detroit coach Mike Babcock said his Red Wings have been an elite team for three years "and we were finally about to get it done."
He called Lidstrom "a phenomenal leader and captain with poise and skill."
"We had a great regular season and we were able to carry that through into the playoffs," said Lidstrom. "The team really responded well to the adversity we faced during the run."
Lidstrom was asked often about being the first European to captain an NHL champion.
"It's something I'm very proud of," said the Swedish star. "I've been over here for a long time.
"I watched Steve Yzerman hoist it three times in the past and I'm very proud of being the first European."
It's the 11th title in Detroit franchise history.
Notes: On power plays, Detroit was 1-3 and Pittsburgh 2-5 . . . Pittsburgh had a 37-28 hits edge . . Detroit won 35 of 58 faceoffs (60 per cent) . . . Eight Red Wings remain from the 2002 team that won the Stanley Cup: Lidstrom, Chris Chelios, Hasek, Holmstrom, Datsyuk, Kris Draper, Kirk Maltby and Darren McCarty . . . Since his first year as an NHL head coach in 2003, Mike Babcock leads all NHL head coaches in post-season wins with 43 . . . It ended on June 4, which was the latest date the Penguins ever played a game.