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Vindicated: Pittsburgh Penguins Prove History, Marian Hossa Wrong

Keith SheltonAnalyst IJune 13, 2009

DETROIT - JUNE 12:  Maxime Talbot #25 of the Pittsburgh Penguins celebrates his first goal in the second period with teammates Evgeni Malkin #71 and Ruslan Fedotenko #26 as Marian Hossa #81 of the Detroit Red Wings skates by during Game Seven of the 2009 NHL Stanley Cup Finals at Joe Louis Arena on June 12, 2009 in Detroit, Michigan.  (Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images)

A few days ago, on the eve of Game Six of the Stanley Cup Finals, I printed an article declaring that Marian Hossa was right to join the Red Wings. The burn of the decade, I called it.

I would like to take this moment to formally apologize for laying a horrible curse on the Red Wings.

While not actually coming out and saying it in print, I believed that it was a sports impossibility for Detroit to blow a Cup finals series in which they led 2-0 at one point, and 3-2 at one point, with Game Seven to be played (if necessary at the time) at their home arena.

To really understand the incredible odds in which Pittsburgh faced going into last night's game, you have to dig through history.

As in, Detroit hadn't lost a series in which it had a chance to eliminate an opponent since Anaheim in 2007.

As in, Detroit hadn't lost a Game Seven since San Jose in 1994, that's 15 years ago!

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As in, Detroit was 12-7 all time in Game Sevens.

and finally, as in, the home team in Game Sevens in the Stanley Cup Finals had gone 12-2 all time.

This was what Pittsburgh had to overcome, not to mention Detroit's loudest crowd of the year in Joe Louis Arena.

How then, was Pittsburgh able to do this?

They were motivated by something more than historical stats. They looked those stats right in the eye and said "is that all you've got?"

Because Pittsburgh remembered last year, when Detroit made laps around Mellon Arena with the Stanley Cup in hand. Pittsburgh remembered how they felt when Marian Hossa left them for the team that beat them, and Pittsburgh would be damned if Hossa was going to lift that cup in their building, and hell, they'd be damned if he would lift that cup at all.

This Penguins team mustered up and summoned that mystical energy that all champions must have to take their game to the highest plateau. It was their time after all.

The team was vindicated again. The player made a fool.

Now Hossa is a fool without a contract on a team that may not be able to afford him. Pittsburgh won't take him back. Where does Hossa go from here?

He took a gamble that didn't pay off, and yes we can blame him for it.

If Detroit had won Game Seven, no one would be talking today about how Hossa had just three assists in the Stanley Cup Finals.

Oh, but how things can get turned around with a loss. Today, it's "Hossa came here to win and only had three assists in the Stanley Cup Finals!"

However, Hossa's play was really just a microcosm of how the entire team (with the exception of Osgood and Zetterberg) played in the final two games.

We watched in disbelief how Detroit took the first 40 minutes of Game Six off and fell behind 2-0 to Pittsburgh.

Then, that disbelief turned to horror as Detroit seemingly did the same exact thing in Game Seven.

Scoreless tie after one period, Detroit was outshot 10-6.

Then Pittsburgh turned up the juice and Max Talbot, Max Talbot! of all players on that Penguins team, scored twice to give his team a 2-0 lead heading into the third period.

I suppose it's not that surprising, maybe even fitting that it was Talbot and not Crosby or Malkin, or Guerin, or even Staal that willed his team to victory. It's often not the star players who end up the heroes in these games. 

In 1997, it was Darren McCarty for Detroit. In 2004, it was Ruslan Fedotenko for Tampa Bay.

At the end of two periods, packed bars in Detroit were quiet. Silence swept the city as if a hero had fallen, and the game wasn't even over yet!

"Wait!" someone may have said. "Detroit always waits until the third period to bring its "A" game! They'll pull this out!"

But teams who wait until the third period to really bring it, in Game Seven of the Stanley Cup Finals don't deserve to win the Stanley Cup.

The Red Wings should be ashamed for falling into that cycle of coasting through the first two periods. It is shocking that a team as experienced as Detroit could let that happen to them.

In the third period, Detroit did in fact turn up the intensity. They outshot Pittsburgh 7-1. Jonathan Ericsson scored with just over six minutes to go in the game to make it 2-1.

Six minutes! An eternity when you only need one goal to tie!

Detroit never let up until the end and had Pittsburgh on the ropes. Then Nik Kronwall let loose a rocket of a shot that inexplicably hit the crossbar and bounced out. That would be Detroit's last great hope.

At the break in play, Penguins goalie Marc-Andre Fleury was seen patting his crossbar like a loyal friend, maybe even talking to it.

Perhaps the Conn Smythe trophy qualifications should be amended to allow inanimate objects eligibility.

That clank of metal made all of Michigan collectively groan and slink back into their chairs with their heads in their hands. It was over. Although their were minutes still on the clock, that would be all she wrote.

Many Detroit fans already had made plans for the inevitable Stanley Cup parade that would surely be coming down Woodward in the coming days.

Today, a funeral march would seem more appropriate.

This loss must sting the most for Marian Hossa, but also for Chris Osgood. He had a lot to lose.

A win would probably cement Osgood in the Hall of Fame and also likely notch him the Conn Smythe trophy as playoff MVP.

The loss, gives him nothing. He will now go back to being disrespected Osgood in the eyes of the nation.

In the opposite side of the rink was Marc-Andre Fleury, a former No. 1 overall draft pick who hadn't played like it except in inconsistent flashes. Until those final two games.

When it mattered most, Fleury rose to the challenge and allowed just two goals over those final two games. This, after being pulled in a 5-0 loss to Detroit in Game Five.

I personally left Fleury off my list of the top-10 netminders in the NHL. Today, Fluery is a top-10 goalie. He was incredible over the final two games of the season.

People may look at those final two games and not see Crosby or Malkin with a goal and ask how did Pittsburgh manage to beat Detroit without their stars scoring?

Look no further than Marc-Andre Fluery and a host of third and fourth liners who sacrificed their bodies and every ounce of energy.

They said it wasn't possible for Pittsburgh's bottom lines to outplay Detroit's. They were wrong.

As much as I want to say that Bettman played his hand during these last two games, and gave this series to Pittsburgh, he didn't. No self- respecting Red Wings fan should believe that.

Detroit was beaten last night, not by the men in stripes, but by a team that was hungrier, and more motivated than the Red Wings were.

You can predict the outcome of games with stats, with injuries, with history, with home-ice advantage, with star players, with depth, with quality of goaltending, with hot streaks, with cold streaks, and everything inbetween.

You can't predict to what degree the intangibles will affect a game.

If anything, last night's game shows us how incredibly hard it really is to win the Stanley Cup. Detroit fans may have lost that appreciation somewhere along the way. Four Championships in the last 12 years can do that to a fanbase.

This makes the feat that the 1997 and 1998 teams accomplished stand out that much brighter. It is extremely hard to repeat as champions in the NHL, it is never given.

So congratulations of the highest order should be awarded to the Pittsburgh Penguins for seemingly doing the impossible, for overcoming incredible odds, for becoming just the third team in NHL history to win the Stanley Cup in Game Seven on opposing ice.

The team was vindicated again. The player made a fool.

So the story goes.

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