Wojnowski: Underdog Penguins Pressured Wings for Stanley Cup Win

Article excerpt

Detroit -- They skated as if lugging the pressure, as if feeling the strain. All night long, the Red Wings kept digging for something that wasn't there, not enough at least, digging right down to the frantic finish. There was one final desperate shot by Nicklas Lidstrom, one final diving save by Marc-Andre Fleury as the clock expired, and then it was over, and the unbelievable, bitter truth was revealed.

And at the end of a long, long run, the Wings ran into an opponent that had more.

More energy, more spunk, more goal-scorers. The Penguins defied the odds and pulled a shocker that will resonate around here during a hot, somber summer. The Penguins are Stanley Cup champs, stunning the defending champs 2-1 Friday night in Game 7 and staggering the Joe Louis Arena crowd into utter silence.

The Wings had the experience, the home ice and the remarkable history, but on the biggest night, they didn't get it done. Attempting to become the NHL's first repeat champions in 11 years, they rediscovered what they already suspected -- it's incredibly hard to repeat, and even harder to hold off a hungry young upstart, led by superstars Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin.

This will haunt the Wings because they had a 2-0 series lead, had several chances to keep the Penguins down, and ended up losing four of the last five games. And in the interest of fairness, this must be said: Ultimately, Marian Hossa chose wrong, picking the Wings over the Penguins last summer, a move that surely inspired the scorned team.

And yes, Hossa was scoreless in the Finals.

"Sometimes you have a tough pill to swallow," Hossa said in the quiet Wings dressing room. "Whether you like it or not, there's lots of pressure. It squeezes you. It's tough, and I tried to battle."

If that wasn't painful enough for Detroit fans, there on the Hockeytown ice was a scene they couldn't bear to watch -- the 21- year-old Crosby lifting the Stanley Cup. He'd limped off with a knee injury in the second period and came back briefly, the price that must be paid to win the Cup.

The Wings know the price, having beaten the Penguins last spring, having won four Cups since 1997. They were the last team to repeat, back in 1998, but this was a far more arduous task, as Pavel Datsyuk, Nicklas Lidstrom and other key players battled injuries.

No excuses, of course, but the toll showed.

"I thought we looked out of gas pretty much all series," coach Mike Babcock said. "I thought we competed and I thought we tried. Everyone has injuries. But the guys that were injured on our team never got their game back to the level it could be."

They never reached that level Friday night, that's for sure. They were sloppy, and a turnover by Brad Stuart led to the first of two goals by Maxime Talbot. Jonathan Ericsson stirred hope by scoring with 6:07 left, and then it was a frenzied rush to the finish. Niklas Kronwall clanked a shot off the crossbar with two minutes left as the crowd gasped, but the Wings couldn't get the equalizer.

Malkin was named the playoff MVP, richly earned. The Penguins just wouldn't go away, their young legs always churning, and the Wings seemed to be in a race with time. Would their experience hold up longer than they own weary legs?

By a narrow margin, it didn't. …