Tears poured down Cooke’s face as he shared this moment with his loved ones.
Across the ice surface, Max Talbot, Pittsburgh’s Stanley Cup hero, his eyes also misting up, sought out not glory, but his own family, so that they may join in the celebration.
Ultimately, this trait was what made the Penguins Stanley Cup champions.
The commitment to be a family. The ability to become a team.
“I can’t even describe it,” Cooke said. “Eleven years in the league and I never even came close. I’m part of an amazing team.”
A new tenant moved into Lord Stanley’s house Friday. A determined, hungry bunch of Penguins who refused to be denied.
Stroll through the concourse at Joe Louis Arena and you’re likely to see someone wearing a sweater of virtually any of the Detroit Red Wings.
Take the same walk around Mellon Arena and three out of every four Pittsburgh Penguins fans will be adorned in either a Sidney Crosby or Evgeni Malkin sweater.
A product of the marketing arm of the National Hockey League and a tremendous misnomer.
The Penguins are more than the sum of their two superstars.
They are a super team.
As of today, hockey’s best team.
The Penguins became the first team in 38 years to win Game 7 of a Stanley Cup finals in enemy territory and they owed the verdict as much to the determination of their muckers and grinders as to the greatness of Malkin and Crosby.
Talbot, an energy guy if there ever was one, scored two goals as the Penguins stunned a capacity Detroit crowd with a 2-1 decision over the Red Wings.
“I don’t have a good explanation why he comes up big in tough situations, but he keeps doing it,” Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said of Talbot. “He’s gritty, determined, not scared to go after it.”
Talbot also symbolizes what made the Penguins hockey’s champions.
“If your team plays well enough as a team, then everyone has a chance to put the cape on,” Bylsma said. “Max put the cape on tonight.”
“I'm not really the hero,” Talbot said. “I was lucky enough to score two goals. Every single guy on the team is a hero. We won the Cup together ... We're a special group. We have a special core. We have a great future.”
Pittsburgh’s performance was made even more impressive by the realization that they played much of the game without their captain. Crosby missed much of the game with a knee injury after he was bodied hard into the boards by Detroit forward Johan Franzen in the second period. He only played one shift the rest of the way.
“There’s just so much pride,” Crosby said, beaming at the thought of how his teammates picked up the slack on the biggest night of the season. Every guy is so proud. You don’t win this without having everybody.”
“He is the heart and soul of the Pittsburgh Penguins,” Talbot said of Crosby. “Every day, he thinks about hockey ... His life is hockey. He respects the game, he loves the game.”
Minus Crosby, though, the Penguins lived on to thrive, another sign of their depth.
Malkin, as he did all playoffs for the Penguins, stepped up to take the reins. It was his pressure on Detroit defenseman Brad Stuart that forced the turnover which led to Talbot’s first goal, breaking a scoreless tie early in the second period.
“He was our most consistent player,” Talbot said of Malkin. “He was our leader out there.”
The Penguins were awarded the Stanley Cup because no part was more valuable than its sum.
Goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury, chased to the bench by a five-goal onslaught in Game 5, overcame his Detroit demons, allowing just two goals in the final two games of the series.
“For (Sid) and Geno (Malkin) and Flower (Fleury), there’s been lots of scrutiny, lots of question marks,” Bylsma said. “This should answer those questions.”
The checking line of Jordan Staal, Tyler Kennedy and Cooke was Pittsburgh’s most consistent unit throughout the series. It was Staal’s shorthanded goal in Game 4 which turned the tide in a Penguins victory and that unit scored both goals in Pittsburgh’s 2-1 Game 6 win. With Crosby hurt, Staal stepped in to fill that role on the top line.
PHT: The Presidents Trophy holders won't go out of these playoffs easily. Chicago beat Detroit 4-1 to force a Game 6.
PHT: Boston defeated New York 3-1 to eliminate the Rangers and advance to the Eastern Conference finals.
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