In a series full of superstars, it was the role players who made the difference in the Pittsburgh Penguins' crucial 2-1 win over the Detroit Red Wings in Game Six of the Stanley Cup Finals on Tuesday in Pittsburgh.
Third-liners Jordan Staal and Tyler Kennedy scored and goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury made 26 saves, 13 of them in a wild third period, to preserve the one-goal victory.
The Penguins win sends the series back to Detroit on Friday night for a climactic Game Seven.
Pittsburgh dominated the first period, outshooting the Red Wings 12-3, but were stymied once again by the outstanding play of Detroit goalkeeper Chris Osgood, who made several key saves during the opening 20 minutes. The Conn Smythe Trophy candidate stopped both Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin on glorious chances to keep the teams scoreless after one.
The second period was more closely contested, with the Penguins again holding a slight edge and they were rewarded when Staal stuffed his own rebound past Osgood, on a two-on-one, 51 seconds into the period.
The goaltenders took over for the rest of the period with Osgood and Fleury taking turns frustrating the opposing shooters.
The Penguins continued their aggressive play at the start of the third period, culminating in Kennedy's fifth goal of the playoffs at 5:35, giving the home side a 2-0 lead and sending the Mellon Arena fans into a frenzy.
Far from conceding defeat, the Red Wings upped their intensity after Kennedy's goal and had cut the lead to one by the 8:01 mark of the final frame.
After an impressive forechecking shift, veteran Kris Draper fired a rebound of a Jonathan Ericsson shot past Fleury, ensuring an exciting and tense final 12 minutes.
The Penguins managed to hold on, thanks to the solid play of Fleury and yeoman efforts from Pittsburgh's under-appreciated defensive corps, particularly veterans Hal Gill, Brooks Orpik, and Rob Scuderi. Scuderi made three key "saves" late in the game, bailing Fleury out of potential dangerous situations.
The trio was particularly effective during back-to-back Detroit power-plays mid-way through the period as the Wings pressed for the equalizer.
The Wings best chance at an equalizer came late in the third period when a beautiful saucer pass by Pavel Datsyuk sent Daniel Clearly in all alone on Fleury.
But the Pittsburgh net-minder read the Detroit winger's deke to the backhand perfectly and made a spectacular, game-saving glove save.
The Penguins' inability to win a defensive zone faceoff in the final minute increased the tension as both Sidney Crosby and Jordan Staal were beaten cleanly by the Wings' Henrik Zetterberg, creating more than a few uneasy moments for the Eastern Conference champions.
The series now shifts back to the Motor City on Friday for the first Stanley Cup Game Seven since Carolina's seven-game victory over Edmonton in 2006. Game time at the Joe Louis Arena is 8:00 p.m. EDT.