DETROIT Sidney Crosby lifted the Stanley Cup, injured knee and all, with a smile of satisfaction as wide as a goal crease. A few handoffs later, the silver trophy was passed to Mario Lemieux, and how fitting.
Two stars, two generations, two captains joined together by one Stanley Cup that took some bad teams and the good drafts that followed them, a tremendous comeback and one unlikely Game 7 goal scorer to accomplish.
The Penguins overcame the NHL's 38-year-old Game 7 road jinx, Crosby's mid-game injury and a furious third-period surge to beat Detroit 2-1 on Friday night, win the Stanley Cup and prevent the Red Wings from winning their fifth league championship in 12 seasons.
As he kissed the cup not once but twice, Lemieux's grin was nearly as big as Sid the Kid's, and why not?
To Lemieux, the first Hall of Famer to win the Stanley Cup as a player and then as a primary owner, Crosby is like family, a player who might be as good as any in the NHL but one who is so grounded he still lives in Lemieux's guest house.
For all of Conn Smythe Trophy winner Evgeni Malkin's Lemieux-like moves and can-score-at-any-moment skills, Crosby is the Penguins player who best emulates Lemieux, who saved a twice-bankrupt Penguins franchise as a player and again as an owner.
So when the 21-year-old Crosby got the assist on the hand-off to Lemieux, the icon-turned-owner beamed like a proud father as he talked about the youngest captain to take a Penguins team to the Stanley Cup.
Lemieux had that distinction himself at age 24 in 1991, but this is Sid's team now. Sid's championship team, although it took many, many hands to do it.
"It means everything to him," Lemieux said. "This kid, all he thinks about is winning championships. His whole life is training and practicing and playing hockey. He's a great kid, a perfect hockey player, that's all he does, think about hockey every day. It's amazing. I wish I would have had that discipline back then."
The Penguins survived numerous scares in becoming the first team since the 1971 Montreal Canadiens and only the third in 15 attempts in NHL history to win a finals Game 7 on the road. The first since those Ken Dryden-led Canadiens, too, to win two Game 7s on the road in the same playoffs, partly because Malkin's 36 points were the most since Wayne Gretzky had 40 in 1993.
It seems inconceivable the Penguins could rally from series deficits of 2-0 and 3-2 to win the third Stanley Cup in franchise history without Crosby or Malkin scoring a goal in the last three games, yet they did. Or with Crosby playing one shift in the final half of Game 7 after he injured a knee during a mid-ice collision with Johan Franzen.
Or that the Penguins would win their first finals Game 7 in their history by getting the game's first two goals from Max Talbot, the one-time fourth-line center and eighth-round draft pick who has played nearly every role on the team except goaltender.
"It might be something out of a storybook, but I don't care," said Talbot, who also scored two goals in Game 4. "We won the Cup."
Only because Marc-Andre Fleury allowed it. Chased from a 5-0 loss in Game 5 in Detroit after giving up four goals in the second period, Fleury made huge save after huge save during a final period that was dominated by the Red Wings.
Fleury was making them all the way to the last second, when he turned aside Nicklas Lidstrom's shot.
"We still felt we were in it," Lidstrom said. "(Niklas) Kronwall hit the crossbar and I had a chance in the final seconds."
The game ended with a Red Wings flurry that almost tied it, much like then-Penguins forward Marian Hossa missed in the final second of the Red Wings' clinching Game 6 victory in Pittsburgh last season.
"We played great in the third period, but the clock just ran out on us," Kirk Maltby said. "We hit a post. It was almost a flashback from last year."
Not long after that Game 6, Hossa jumped sides and signed with the Red Wings, rejecting the Penguins' much-bigger offer because he felt Detroit had a better chance than the Penguins to win the Stanley Cup. Instead, he wound up playing for the Stanley Cup runnerup in consecutive seasons, partly because he didn't score a goal in the finals.
"After last year it was pretty devastating to everybody," Crosby said. "But we found our way back and finally finished it off. '
During the series, the Penguins refused to make an issue of Hossa's defection, but it was evident some of them drew motivation from it.
"That's life. Sometimes you make decisions," Hossa said. "I don't regret it."
Just like the Penguins don't regret drafting Fleury, who won't hear any longer that he's not good enough to win a big game. In the biggest game of his life, Fleury was better than three-time Cup winner Chris Osgood, who might have been the playoffs MVP if Detroit had won.
"No matter what happened, we bounced back," Fleury said. "That was our strength, to put everything in back and move on. It's just been a great team."
In February, not so great.
The Penguins were buried in 10th place in the Eastern Conference, all but all of playoff contention, and general manager Ray Shero fired coach Michel Therrien and promoted Dan Bylsma from the top minor league team.
"He transformed us pretty quickly and we all bought into it," Crosby said.
It turned out to be the perfect move. More relaxed and aggressive under Bylsma, the Penguins took off by going 18-3-4 down the stretch, making the playoffs and closing out each of their four playoff rounds by winning on the road.
Bylsma became the first rookie coach since Al MacNeil of those '71 Canadiens to take over a team during the season and win the Stanley Cup.
The Stanley Cup the Red Wings seemed certain to add to the 11 they previously won, four since 1997, after they took the first two games in Detroit by 3-1 scores. But the Penguins won four of the final five, including twin 4-2 wins at home in Games 3 and 4 and 2-1 decisions in the final two games.
And how's this for symmetry? Game 7 was the 87th game of the NHL playoffs. Crosby's number, of course, is 87.
Like Lemieux said, everything turned out perfectly for Sidney Crosby, the kid champion.
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