The shot that saved the NHL?

Published 2:38 am Wednesday, June 4, 2008

By By STEVE FRANKLIN, Sports Writer
Maxime Talbot may have just saved hockey.
On Monday night, with the score 3-2 in favor of Detroit in the waning moments of Game 5 of the Stanley Cup finals, Talbot ripped a shot past Red Wings goaltender Chris Osgood with 34.3 seconds remaining to spark the greatest hockey game since the NHL reemerged from its year long lockout in 2004-05.
With one shot, one game, hockey has been revived.
In the final minute of the third period, with Detroit fans ready to explode in celebration of the team’s third championship in a decade, Pittsburgh pulled goalie Marc-Andre Fleury to get an extra man on the ice. The man who got the call was Talbot. Less than 20 seconds into his shift, Talbot found the puck on the end of his stick and poked it past Osgood.
It was just what hockey needed.
Those who tuned in expecting to watch the Tonight Show with Jay Leno, instead got more than they bargained for: the most-thrilling sporting event since, well, this year’s Super Bowl — had it been any other Super Bowl, the nod probably goes to the hockey game.
After 60 minutes of back-and-forth hockey, Game 5 went on. And on, and on.
The two teams traded blow-after-blow, shot-after-shot, for two overtime periods. With 100 minutes of hockey in the books, still no winner.
In the third period, exhaustion set in. So did the hunger.
The bodies wanted to quit, but the players’ will wouldn’t let them. Guys who normally go shifts of a minute or more, were struggling to stay on the for more than 25 seconds.
What started off as a hockey game soon turned into a war, a test of strength and determination.
With so much at stake, even the high-priced players and superstars were hitting the ice to block shots, or checking opponents into the wall.
At the 109-minute mark, the Penguins finally got a break.
Detroit’s Jiri Hudler caught Penguins defenseman Rob Scuderi in the lip with a high-stick, causing a cut. Hudler was hit with a four-minute penalty.
Then came the called shot.
Between periods, Petr Sykora had told NBC’s on-ice reporter that he’d get the game-winner.
Sure enough, he kept his word. Sykora laced a rope over the shoulder of Osgood, ending the fifth longest battle of attrition in Stanley Cup history.
This Stanley Cup series has been billed as the dream matchup: the most storied franchise of the last half-century versus the young and upcoming Penguins. This is the series that’s suppose to help the NHL regain its popularity.
Game 5 did its part.
Monday’s marathon was the game that hockey has so desperately needed. With the game being shown on NBC at a time when most Americans have just nestled into bed, hockey took center stage and stole the spotlight.
Maybe now, the national Hockey League can get the television deal with a major TV network that it has long sought. When ESPN pulled the plug on the NHL four years ago, the NHL settled on VERSUS, and ratings and popularity took a severe hit.
This should help them bounce back.
If so, we can thank Maxime Talbot. He’s the man responsible for this century’s most exciting hockey game. Not only did he save the Penguins from elimination, he may also have saved the NHL from extinction.