DETROIT - Sergei Gonchar's heroic return on the ice lasted only 36 seconds. That's all the Pittsburgh Penguins needed out of him.
The power-play quarterback returned after missing more than two periods with severe back spasms, helping to set up Petr Sykora's overtime winner in the third overtime as the Penguins forced a Game 6 in the Stanley Cup final against the Detroit Red Wings. "During the first two overtimes I was getting treatment and started to feel better and better," Gonchar said in the wee hours of Tuesday morning. "So I decided to give it a try. It worked out well."
He looked surely gone for the night when he crashed heavily into boards late in the second period. He played five shifts in the third period before going to the dressing room, his back seizing up.
"When your back is tied up, you can't breath, you can't move," said Gonchar. "At the beginning I thought I broke something. I was nervous about it."
Penguins GM Ray Shero watched from the press box as No. 55 jumped on the ice midway through the third overtime after Detroit's Jiri Hudler took a four-minute high-sticking penalty.
"To me, just to see him out there, it gives you confidence," said Shero. "He's such a quarterback, it helped us get control in our zone which had been difficult for us all night long."
It also showed the courage a player like Gonchar doesn't always get credit for.
"What I didn't know about Sergei Gonchar when I first came here is how much he cares," said Shero. "You see the goals and stats but he's much more than that. That was really gutsy of him tonight."
The first two overtimes weren't a whole lot of fun for the Russian blue-liner.
"I was sitting in here and watching the game. It was so tough on me. I was so nervous," said Gonchar. "So I thought, 'Maybe if there's a chance, some way, somehow, to help my team, I should be there.' Then my back, with treatment, started loosening up ...
"So I went on the bench and you never know if there's a penalty in overtime."
Now he hopes he can play Wednesday night at Mellon Arena in Pittsburgh.
"I hope so," said Gonchar. "I will have to try and skate. We've made progress so far and hopefully that will continue and I will be able to play in Game 6."