The Penguins' Tyler Kennedy bangs the game-winner past the Wings' Chris Osgood in the third period. Game Seven is on Friday in Detroit. (Dale G. Young / The Detroit News)
The bouncing puck played games of fate, caroming everywhere as the Red Wings mounted a final furious rush. It sat in the crease, it trickled through the crease, and in the frantic closing seconds, it stayed out of the net.
And now, fittingly, these teams play on.
The Penguins weren't ready to go away, not this night. The truth is, the Wings weren't ready to put them away, not ready enough, certainly not early enough.
So the season will come down to one final game, one last sweaty grab for the Stanley Cup, and thankfully for the Wings, it'll be at Joe Louis Arena. A tight, tense Stanley Cup Finals just got as tight and tense as possible, as the Penguins edged the Wings, 2-1, on Tuesday to tie the series 3-3 and force a Game 7 on Friday.
The home team has won every game this series, and that's a nice slice of reality for the Wings, who are 11-1 at home this postseason. If they're to win it, they'll have to wait, which is their justifiable punishment for waiting way too long Tuesday. The fired-up Penguins earned it, but the Wings didn't show much energy the first two periods, and played as if they knew they had a cushion.
Well, fellas, the cushion is gone, and the pressure is immense. Could the first loss by a home team actually come in Game 7? I wouldn't bet on it, but anything is possible, because with one exception -- the Wings' 5-0 blowout in Game 5 -- these games have been decided by the thinnest of margins (two goals four times, one goal once).
The concern is, the young Penguins are back to flying, and the pressure shifts to the defending champs. The Wings weren't happy with their effort but know they're going home, and they know their third-period rush was a significant sign of life.
"They came at us real hard for two periods, actually the whole game," goaltender Chris Osgood said. "The tide turned a bit at the end, but not enough. Bottom line for us, we know we can play a heckuva lot better. We knew it was gonna be a long, tough series. I think the majority of people expected it to go seven. It'll be a lot of fun."
If it's as wild as Game 6, it could be a classic. All night, the Wings were looking for a big play while the Penguins were making them, and it wasn't just Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. Thanks to Osgood, the game stayed close, close enough for the Wings to get their chances.
Too little, too late
The chances finally came in the third period as the Wings started moving, and oh, boy, this became a matter of an inch here, a skate save there. With 13 seconds left, Johan Franzen had two whacks in front of Penguins goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury, and it took a leg save by defenseman Rob Scuderi to keep the Wings from tying it.
Moments earlier, Dan Cleary had skated free on a breakaway, the Mellon Arena crowd screaming, and Fleury knocked away the shot.
If Game 7 is anything like this, prepare to perspire madly.
"It's an unbelievable opportunity," Crosby said. "We found a way to survive. They play great at home but we've got to battle and find a way to pull it off."
Kris Draper had sliced a 2-0 deficit in half by slapping a rebound past Fleury midway through the third, and then it was a flash to the finish. The Wings had flurries in front of Fleury, who made huge stops, again and again.
When the Wings finally started pressing, it was intense. It also was too late. In this series, especially on the road, if you wait for something to happen, the game passes you by. And now the Wings must try one more time to handle the Penguins' energy and stars, with absolutely no margin for error.
"You can't ask for anything better than a Game 7 at home," said an upbeat Henrik Zetterberg, who clanked one shot off the post behind Fleury. "I think we did a lot of good things in the third. You always bring with you the good things and try to change the bad things."
This wasn't going to be easy. Everyone knew that, right?
As expected, the Penguins reined in their emotions and unleashed their skating. As expected, they had plenty of early chances, outshooting the Wings by a staggering 24-12 through two periods.
Wire to wire
This had the feel of an elimination game, from the sometimes-cautious play, to the players' diving to block shots, to the crowd's shrieks. The Wings simply weren't aggressive enough early, pinned in their own zone, tentative to come out. It wasn't a bad performance, it just wasn't desperate.
These always are the strangest nights, when the Stanley Cup is in the building and one team can lift it and the other team is playing for another shot to lift it. You might recall -- with horror and dread -- the situation a year ago, when the Wings had a chance to clinch at Joe Louis Arena and the Penguins tied Game 5 with 34 seconds left in regulation. Pittsburgh won in the third overtime to force a Game 6, which Detroit eventually won to win the franchise's 11th Stanley Cup.
Now it just got tougher, as tough as possible, perhaps tougher than the Wings expected. But really, this has felt like a seven-game series all along, with most of the action tight, with both teams capable of igniting at any moment.
The Penguins lit early, the Wings lit late, too late.
One more game and one more chance.
If the Wings are smart, they'll show up right on time.