Pittsburgh Penguins forward Petr Sykora (right) smiles as he and goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury answer questions during a media availability in Pittsburgh, Pa. on Tuesday June 3, 2008. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn
PITTSBURGH - Lord Stanley's famous mug was out of its case and polished up. NHL commissioner Gary Bettman was 35 seconds away from presenting it to Detroit Red Wings captain Nicklas Lidstrom.
Yet the Pittsburgh Penguins, a team almost everyone counted out after going down 3-1 in the Stanley Cup final, are still alive and kicking.
They were back home Tuesday, savouring a remarkable 4-3, triple-overtime win a night earlier that put the Cup back in storage and set up an intriguing Game 6 on Wednesday in what will be a loud Mellon Arena (8 p.m. ET).
"They kind of had it in their pocket," overtime hero Petr Sykora said Tuesday.
It's hard to imagine how the teams got back to Pittsburgh at all.
Joe Louis Arena was rocking Monday, the fans chanting, the party about to begin. The Stanley Cup was there ...
"It's nice to be close to it," Wings head coach Mike Babcock said moments after arriving in Pittsburgh on Tuesday evening. "Be nicer to have it."
From the corner of their eyes, surely the Penguins noticed the Cup preparations.
"You're too focused to notice," Penguins forward Maxime Talbot insisted Tuesday after a few winks of sleep. "You hear the crowd a little bit, they were saying 'We want the Cup,' and stuff like that. But you don't think about the Cup being in the hallway and everything.
"You just think about getting the job done. And we still had work to do. And we got on the ice, and we did it."
Talbot became an unlikely hero when he tied it with 35 seconds left - "I don't even know why I was on the ice," he said - before Sykora won it two and a half periods later.
It was a huge blow to the Wings. But they're an experienced team.
"You have to put that behind you and move on to the next game," said Lidstrom, looking to add his fourth Cup ring Wednesday night. "And I think that with the experience, that helps, too.
"It does stink right after when you had a chance (to close it out), but that's the beauty of sports. You have to be ready to play the next one again."
Veteran Wings goalie Chris Osgood said he thought about it after the game but then quickly moved on.
"But you can't really do anything about it," he said. "There's no way you can take it back. There's no way, there's just no reason to dwell on it, because you can't change what happened. But you think about it for a second, yeah, but that was it, really."
Pittsburgh's goal now is to force a seventh and deciding game back in Detroit on Saturday night.
"I think we got the momentum going right now," said Sykora. "I think after coming away with a win like that, mentally you're back in it. And I think the building is going to be rocking, and I think we all are excited and hopefully we can get it done tomorrow night."
Somehow the young Penguins have to put aside one of the more memorable games in franchise history. To recap:
-Marc-Andre Fleury made 55 saves, the most in a Cup final game in 10 years.
-Winger Ryan Malone took a slapshot in the face, breaking his nose for the second time in the Cup final. But he returned.
-Star defenceman Sergei Gonchar crashed heavily into boards and eventually left the game with back spasms. After missing the first two overtime periods while trainers tried to loosen up his back, he returned to the bench for the third overtime and hopped on the ice for a pivotal power play, assisting on the winner. A gutsy moment sure to become part of Stanley Cup lore.
-Sykora told teammates during the second overtime intermission that he would score the winner. And he did.
-The Penguins became the first team in 72 years to score a game-tying goal in the final minute to prevent the other team from clinching the Cup.
What else can this Stanley Cup final hold for hockey fans?
"I think any time you go through something like that, come out with a win, and to see the way everyone kept battling and didn't give up, it certainly means a lot to everyone," said Penguins superstar Sidney Crosby, who leads all playoff scorers with 26 points. "And having gone through that, I think we're better for it."
Sykora and linemate Evgeni Malkin hope they're better for it. The fact they combined on the winning goal should not be overlooked. It was Malkin's first point and Sykora's first goal of the series.
"Both of us we were struggling offensively," said Sykora. "And I felt that Gino had a strong game, too. And for us to be successful as a team, coming for tomorrow night's game and get a win, I think me and Gino, we have to come up with some offence again.
"And I think that was a good start last night."
Seeing Malkin and Sykora show signs of life is key for the Penguins, who have relied too much on Crosby's top line.
"It's huge," said Penguins head coach Michel Therrien. "We need those players to be able to perform both sides of the ice. This is what the playoffs are all about."
It's also about playing through pain. Gonchar, Pittsburgh's most important blue-liner, should play Wednesday night.
"We're expecting that he's going to be able to play tomorrow," said Therrien. " So that's a good sign."