- The Washington Times - Saturday, June 13, 2009

DETROIT | The Sid and Geno Era has officially begun in Pittsburgh.

The Pittsburgh Penguins, despite an injury to captain Sidney Crosby, defeated the Detroit Red Wings 2-1 on Friday night in Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Finals at Joe Louis Arena. Max Talbot was unlikely hero with both goals, and the Penguins became only the third team in NHL history to win a Game 7 on the road in the championship round.

“It means so many things,” Crosby said. “You think of so many people who helped you along the way, and you have to be lucky. … I just feel so gracious and fortunate to be a part of it.”

Pittsburgh fell behind 2-0 in this series to the defending champions - just as the Penguins did against the Washington Capitals in the second round - and again 3-2 after being blown out in Game 5 here, but the Penguins won the final two games by 2-1 decisions.

Marc-Andre Fleury made a pair of saves in the final five seconds on Henrik Zetterberg and Nicklas Lidstrom to set off a wild celebration on the ice and in the crowd with the several thousand Penguins fans who made the five-hour trek northwest.

“I can’t even describe it,” said Matt Cooke, who signed with the Penguins after finishing last season with the Capitals. “Eleven years [in the [JUMP]league] and I wasn’t even close, but for it to be a Game 7 against the Detroit Red Wings, who are an amazing team, and to come out on top in surreal.”

Talbot opened the scoring 1:13 into the second period. Evgeni Malkin, who won the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP with the most points in a postseason (36) since 1993, knocked down an outlet pass by Detroit’s Brad Stuart and gave it to Talbot, who slipped a shot between Detroit goalie Chris Osgood’s legs.

He made it a two-goal lead at 10:07. Chris Kunitz one-handed a pass to Talbot, which ignited a two-on-one break. Talbot kept the puck and beat Osgood with a wrist shot into the top right corner.

Jonathan Ericsson cut the advantage in half with 6:07 remaining. His shot from the left point sneaked under the crossbar and brought the Red Wings’ fans back into the contest, but Fleury and his mates held in the final minutes.

Crosby was checked into the boards in the neutral zone by Johan Franzen and left with 14:19 remaining in the middle period. He returned to the bench at the start of the final period but didn’t take a shift until midway through, and it would be his last.

This is the third time in franchise history the Penguins have won the Stanley Cup, and the first since back-to-back titles in 1991 and 1992. Pittsburgh is the first expansion franchise in NHL history to win a Cup more than five years after a previous championship.

Team owner Mario Lemieux first saved hockey in Pittsburgh when the Penguins drafted him first overall in 1984. He was the face of the organization for the first two championships and helped hockey take root in a city that only feigned interest before his arrival.

After Lemieux retired, the franchise was in financial disarray and a candidate to leave town when he bought the team in 1999. When Lemieux couldn’t find the funding for a new arena, he went through the process of trying to sell the team - until the Penguins won the draft lottery in 2005 and the right to draft Crosby.

Now the Penguins will celebrate the final season at Mellon Arena before they move across the street to Consol Energy Center as the defending Stanley Cup champions.

“Coming in my first year, I didn’t know how quick we would be able to establish ourselves as a solid team in the NHL,” Crosby said. “We grew pretty quickly, and we wanted to make an impact as early as we could. It is awesome.”

This team’s rise from the depths of the NHL began with drafting Fleury with the No. 1 pick in 2003, and then subsequent picks Malkin (No. 2 in 2004), Crosby and Jordan Staal (No. 2 in 2006) formed the core of a team that was two wins short of a title last season.

It was a tumultuous route back to this point. First, an exodus of free agents in the summer drastically altered the roster. One of them, Marian Hossa, spurned a long-term contract offer to ink a one-year deal with the Red Wings because he felt Detroit gave him the best chance to win a Cup.

“That’s life,” Hossa said. “Sometimes you make choices. I still had a great year in this organization.”

The Penguins began the season without their top two defensemen because of injuries and eventually sank to 10th place in the Eastern Conference. That cost Michel Therrien his job, but new coach Dan Bylsma, with the help of a few key additions at the trade deadline, helped the team finish on an 18-3-4 run to close the regular season and another march to the championship round.

But in the end it was the guy who Malkin joked had “bad hands” earlier in this series who provided all the offense in this decisive game. By doing so, a league that has marketed its elite young players to help move past a messy lockout four years ago has a champion driven by several precocious talents.

“I was so young, and I thought I would get a million cracks,” said 38-year-old Bill Guerin, a trade deadline addition who won the Cup 14 years ago with New Jersey - and the guy whom Crosby gave it to first. “You just don’t - you don’t. All I’ve wanted the rest of my career was one more chance. This is just… thank God for Max Talbot.”

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