When asked who would be the hero tonight prior to Game 7 of the Stanley Cup final, Maxime Talbot had only one answer:
"I'd like to think it's going to be me," Talbot told TSN's Ryan Rishaug.
How right he was.
The Lemoyne, Quebec native scored twice while his best friend on the team, Marc-Andre Fleury came up with 23 saves as the Penguins knocked off the Detroit Red Wings 2-1 in Game 7 to capture the Stanley Cup.
"We said it when we started the playoffs, if your team plays well enough as a team and everyone has a chance to put the cape on and certainly Max put the cape on tonight," stated Penguins head coach Dan Byslma.
Talbot enjoyed a phenomenal final that saw him lead all goal scorers with three tallies, despite being comically criticized by linemate Evgeni Malkin following Gamd 3 for having 'bad hands.'
"Hey, I still have bad hands," stated a laughing Talbot at the podium. "These two goals don't improve my stick handling skills. Like Geno (Malkin) said, I still have to work on it during the summer. But I don't really care about the two goals. Everybody's talking to me about that. I'm here because of that. But we won the game. Flower (Fleury) made some great saves. Geno won the Conn Smythe. Everybody sacrificed their body. Miroslav (Satan) goes on the ice and blocks a shot. This is how you win championships."
The Penguins' victory was the first time in the series that the road team was able to win a game in the opposing team's rink.
After leading all scorers with 36 points, Evgeni Malkin was named the recipient of the Conn Smythe trophy as the top performer in the post-season. The Russian dynamo became just the fifth player to lead the regular season and playoffs in scoring, joining Mario Lemieux, Wayne Gretzky, Guy Lafleur and Phil Esposito as the only players to accomplish the feat.
For Sidney Crosby, who is now the youngest captain to ever lead his team to the Stanley Cup, the experience of raising the Cup above his head helped erase all the memories of last season as he was forced to watch the Wings parade the Cup in front of him.
"You feel like you are dreaming," Crosby told TSN hockey Insider Darren Dreger. "You don't even feel like it's real. There's 16 seconds left and you're like 'is this game 7 for the Stanley Cup?' It's amazing, it's a dream come true."
The victory was the ultimate reward for the Penguins' roller-coaster season that saw them replace the man that helped lead them to the Final last season, Michel Therrien, with an unproven, rookie coach in Dan Byslma.
In victory Byslma becomes the 14th head coach to capture the Cup in their first season and the first to win since taking over at mid-season since Al MacNeil with the Montreal Canadiens in 1971. Coincidentally that was also the last year that the road team won in Game 7 of the final. Bylsma never thought he would be in this position when he took over the team in February.
"I think I knew the quality of the players we had, and the team that we had," Bylsma said. "I believed in the organization we had, and you do let your mind wander. You do think this is a team that could win a Stanley Cup. Maybe not this particular year, I didn't think that."
After looking shaky in three previous games in Detroit, Fleury came up big when his team needed him the most, especially in the waning seconds as he came up with his biggest save of the series, throwing himself in front of a blast by Nicklas Lidstrom.
Fleury's performance in the deciding game caught the eye of TSN hockey insider Bob McKenzie.
"Marc-Andre Fleury was terrific in Game 7 right from the get-go; looking calm, composed and certainly getting the job done in Joe Louis Arena, a place where he and the Penguins more or less had a melt down in Game 5."
The loss was especially hard on Red Wings' misfiring sniper Marian Hossa who spurned the Pens to sign a one-year deal with Detroit as he believed it presented him the best opportunity to win a Cup. Hossa struggled mightily under the expectations and was held without a goal in the series.
"Regret? I don't have any regrets," Hossa said following the game. "Whether your like it or not, in life, there's going to be pressure. It squeezes you. It's very difficult to play like that."
In the opinion of TSN hockey Insider Bob McKenzie, that pressure was too much for the normally high scoring Slovak.
"Hossa was physiologically spooked in a big way and just completely off his game," McKenzie stated. "I thought he played better in Game 7, he got a little more going and he seemed to be skating more free and easy, but in the grand scheme of things that's got to be a tough hand shake going down that line."
Former player and current NHL on TSN analyst Ray Ferraro was less generous with his assessment of Hossa's play.
"If you want to try and pick maybe one significant event that determined what the outcome of this series was, it would be that Marian Hossa came up absolutely empty," said Ferraro following the game.
Gracious in defeat, Babcock congratulated the Penguins and refused to point the finger at any of his players, however he admitted that injuries had taken their toll on his team.
"We've basically been taped together all playoffs," Babcock stated. "Our guys did a good job to battle through and do the best they could. We weren't in some situations as good as we normally are. But I think when guys are giving you everything they've got, that's all you can ask from them."
It has been quite a year in sports for the city of Pittsburgh as the Pens' victory comes on the heels of the Steelers win in Super Bowl XLIII.
In Bob McKenzie's oppinion, the Pens victory in Game 7 was as stunning as any in recent memory.
"With all the question marks about experience versus lack of experience and how far the maturity level has come for the Penguins, this is one of the more remarkable Stanley Cup victories that I can recall in quite some time because of the way they went out and accomplished it."
With the entire NHL season coming down to a solitary game, a jam packed Joe Louis Arena was rocking prior to puck drop as the capacity crowd attempted to will the Wings to their second straight Stanley Cup title.
Although the 'Greatest of All Time,' Muhammad Ali was in attendance and sporting a Wings' sweater, it was the Penguins who were floating like a butterfly and stinging like a bee early on as they buzzed around the Wings net.
The Wings came under further fire when Brad Stuart was sent off for a slash that broke Malkin's stick. While the Wings' special teams have struggled throughout the series, they did their job killing off the Pens' powerplay despite great chances by Crosby, Malkin and Mark Eaton. When the smoke cleared Pittsburgh had out shot Detroit 10-6 in a fast paced opening frame.
The game plan did not change between periods for the Pens as they opened the second period with as much fire as they closed the opening stanza. Stuart's nightmare evening continued as he coughed up the puck directly behind his own net. Malkin then found Talbot in front, who continued his trend of scoring big goals to give the Penguins the lead with his seventh goal of the post-season and third of the final.
The Pens got their first bit of bad news in the game as Johan Franzen ran Crosby into the side boards. The Penguins captain was noticeably grimacing as he left the ice and headed immediately to the Pens' dressing room.
The problem was exacerbated almost immediately as Hal Gill was sent off for holding; however instead of folding, the Pens special teams came up with an enormous penalty kill to keep the Wings off the board.
The kill apparently gave the Penguins the spark that they were looking as moments later as they broke in two-on-one with Talbot firing his second of the contest past Osgood.
In the unfamiliar position of trailing at home, the defending champs appeared to be shell-shocked as they were unable to generate any sustained pressure on Fleury. Detroit's best chances came with less than a minute remaining in the period when Fleury came up with a saves on Franzen and Henrik Zetterberg. While Pittsburgh dominated the scoreboard, shots were tied at 17 apiece after 40 minutes.
With the Pens a perfect 10-0 when leading after two periods in the playoffs, the team got a big, emotional boost as Crosby returned to the bench for the final stanza.
Potentially facing a long off-season of answering questions of what went wrong, the Wings looked re-energized to start the period forcing Mark Eaton to take an early penalty.
Largely unchallenged all night, Fleury came up with his biggest saves on the ensuing powerplay, repeatedly stopping Tomas Holmstrom on the doorstep.
After looking lifeless for the majority of the game, desperation finally set in for the Red Wings as they continued to bomb away at Fleury in the Pens net. Unlike previous games in Detroit, this time the Sorel, Quebec native remained composed to keep the Wings' snipers at bay.
Dan Byslma must have been crossing his fingers as he sent Crosby over the boards for his first shift of the period with just over 10 minutes remaining in the contest. The former Hart Trophy winner responded by winning a faceoff, but was noticeably labouring around the ice.
"I thought I was kind of a threat to us being out there," Crosby admitted to Darren Dreger. "Especially being against Zetterberg and Datsyuk. One bad step with those guys and they can put it in the back of our net. I didn't want to be the guy that was hurting us out there. I tried it at the 10 minute mark and it just wasn't going but I had all the confidence in the world that guys were going to find a way."
Up two goals, the Penguins appeared to be content to sit back as the play was almost exclusively in their defensive zone. The decision cost them as blueliner Jonathan Ericsson accepted a cross-ice feed and beat Fleury high glove side to get the Red Wings on the board.
Sensing that they had the Penguins finally on their heels the Red Wings poured on the pressure, narrowly missing on tying the score when a Niklas Kronwall point shot drew iron behind Fleury.
With just over a minute remaining, Wings' head coach Mike Babcock called a timeout as he attempted to draw up an equalizer.
With Osgood pulled in favour of the extra attacker, the Red Wings threw everything they had at the Penguins' net. With time running out Fleury came up with an enormous sprawling save on Lidstrom to secure the victory for the Penguins.
"He made big saves tonight," Wings' forward Kirk Maltby said of Fleury's performance. "They have two seconds left. They're probably the two biggest saves of the game, obviously. He stopped the puck when he had to."
As time ran out, the young Pens poured onto the ice to celebrate the team's first Stanley Cup since 1992. Those dying seconds felt like an eternity to many of the Pens players.
"I looked up at the clock and there were six seconds left and I couldn't believe it was actually going to happen," said Bill Guerin.
While some may see the Red Wings loss as the end of a dynasty, the team itself does not believe that their best days are in the rear view mirror.
"We had our win last year but we'll learn from this too," said Red Wings forward Henrik Zetterberg. "We'll come back stronger."
Notes…Pittsburgh was forced into one lineup change prior to the game as Miroslav Satan replaced Petr Sykora who suffered an apparent broken bone in his foot in Game 6.