They bled. They sweated. They battled. They sacrificed.
And, above all, they survived.
So did their dream: The one being held together with sutures and dried blood and sheer will, the one the Penguins will take into Game 6 of the Stanley Cup final against Detroit at 8:08 p.m. today at Mellon Arena.
That series, in which the Red Wings hold a 3-2 advantage, is still in session only because the Penguins refused to accept otherwise, prolonging it by virtue of a 4-3, triple-overtime victory in Game 5 at Detroit.
Right winger Petr Sykora made certain that Game 6 would be necessary by beating Detroit goalie Chris Osgood from the right dot at 9:57 of the third sudden-death overtime -- or 12:51 a.m. yesterday, if you're keeping time at home -- to end the fifth-longest game in Cup final history.
Sykora put the exclamation point on a performance that, regardless of how the series plays out, will rank among the most inspired -- and inspiring -- in franchise history.
But the Penguins didn't win only because Sykora found a way to score his first goal in nine games.
They won because:
Max Talbot pushed the game past regulation by scoring 34.3 seconds before the Red Wings were supposed to begin celebrating their 11th Cup.
Marc-Andre Fleury found a way to reject 55 shots, including a left-skate stop on Mikael Samuelsson that rivals any big-game save made by a Penguins goalie.
An underrated defense corps found a way to overcome the absence of its cornerstone, Sergei Gonchar, who missed about half the game with an apparent back injury before coming back to assist on Sykora's winning goal.
Ryan Malone didn't think that having a Hal Gill slap shot slam off his already-broken nose was reason to skip more than a shift or two.
Brooks Orpik put his body in front of 10 shots and threw it into at least five Red Wings.
Evgeni Malkin showed a few flashes that suggested he might be morphing into, well, Evgeni Malkin.
Ryan Whitney, after a mostly forgettable season, turned in 50 minutes and 46 seconds of excellence in what might prove to be his coming-of-age performance as an elite defenseman.
And the Penguins won because so many gave so much for so long.
"Everybody chipped in," Sykora said, "and we came up with a huge win."
Which, the way the Penguins saw it, was the least they could expect from one another.
"What can you do?" defenseman Rob Scuderi said. "You're trying to save your season. You suck it up -- suck it up for the guys around you -- and try to give yourself a chance."
History, it should be noted, doesn't give the Penguins much of a chance. Only one team, the 1942 Toronto Maple Leafs, has won a Stanley Cup after losing three of the first four games in the final.
"We know the situation, that we can't lose a game," winger Jarkko Ruutu said. "It's as simple as that."
Competing with an opponent as talented and fast and deep as the Red Wings is an imposing challenge under any circumstance. Doing it with a diluted lineup would be even more daunting.
Coach Michel Therrien said he is optimistic that Gonchar will be able to play tonight and that "I'll be really surprised" if Malone isn't in the lineup, although he was scheduled to have X-rays yesterday.
While the Penguins appreciated Gonchar's refusal to leave the game for good, they seemed almost in awe of the way Malone reacted to a significant facial injury the way most people would a paper cut.
"What he's doing out there, and what he's sacrificing, is unbelievable," center Sidney Crosby said.
That's a reasonable assessment, considering Malone said he had no choice but to breathe through his mouth -- not necessarily the preferred means of oxygen intake -- and that, in the waning seconds of the third period, he didn't hesitate to throw himself in front of a shot to thwart a scoring chance for Detroit.
"I tried [to block the shot]," Malone said. "I don't know if it hit me or not."
Didn't matter. What counted was his willingness to do whatever was needed to keep his team alive. That's a mind-set that could serve the Penguins well when they try to keep their season alive again in Game 6.
"This is our last game in Pittsburgh," Therrien said. "And we're going to have to really make sure it's going to be pretty special."
|THE LONGEST NIGHTS|
|Longest Stanley Cup final games|
|May 15, 1990||Edmonton 3, Boston 2||55:13||Petr Klima.|
|June 19, 1999||Dallas 2, Buffalo 1||54:51||Brett Hull|
|June 8, 2002||Detroit 3, Carolina 2||54:47||Igor Larionov|
|April 9, 1931||Chicago 3, Montreal 2||53:50||Cy Wentworth|
|June 2, 2008||Penguins 4, Detroit 3||49:57||Petr Sykora|
|June 8, 2000||Dallas 1, New Jersey 0||46:21||Mike Modano|