DETROIT – Blood was dribbling through Robert Scuderi's beard, falling off his chin until it dropped onto his sweat-soaked shorts in the locker room postgame. This was from the fresh gash, not the one on the upper lip that had already been stitched up.
The new one came courtesy of a high stick that earned the Pittsburgh Penguins the power play they would use to steal a 4-3 victory in the exhausted third overtime early Tuesday morning. The one that would postpone a Stanley Cup celebration here and force a Game 6 Wednesday back home.
It was a welcome wound, its presence assuring a double minor.
"I was just praying for blood," Scuderi said after Jiri Hudler's stick sliced him. "I skated up the ice going, 'God, I hope I'm bleeding.' "
As he smiled slightly at the memory, more blood dripped. Finally a trainer showed up, declaring, "Stitch time."
Scuderi didn't move. He didn't care about the blood.
Across the Penguins locker room, goalie Marc-Andre Fleury sprawled back on a wooden bench, too exhausted to sip the Gatorade in his left hand, let alone take his 55-save pads off.
He kept talking in short sentences, as if complete ones were too taxing. He was drenched in sweat, straight through his uniform, his long hair as wet as if he just got out of the shower.
"Just one save at a time," he kept repeating. "Make that next save. Give the guys another chance."
He shook his head and paused. He looked shell-shocked. He had forgotten the question. The pressure of 109 minutes of Cup finals hockey will do that to you.
"It's the longest game I've played," Fleury said. "And the most tired one. But also the most satisfying one."
Blood, sweat and no tears.
It was well past 1 a.m., well past when the Penguins' Cinderella story was supposed to end. It was more than two hours and three overtimes after the NHL had pulled Lord Stanley's Cup out of its box and had the dudes with the no-smudge gloves set it up for a presentation.
This wasn't presumptive, it was inevitable. Detroit was leading 3-2 in the final minute, Joe Louis Arena rocking from a spirited comeback and an 11th Stanley Cup moments away. The Wings had dominated; they were too skilled, too experienced and too tough to crumble.
NHL commissioner Gary Bettman walked down a back hallway and buttoned his tailored suit coat; he was about to go on TV.
Then Penguins coach Michel Therrien, in need of an extra skater for the pulled goalie, "got a feeling." He sent out center Max Talbot, who never gets out there in times like that. Naturally Talbot tied it with 34.5 seconds left. The arena went silent. The Cup went back in the box. The Zamboni got fired up for overtime. And more overtime. And more overtime.
The Red Wings kept coming, though, stronger and stronger it seemed. Detroit's confidence wasn't shaken by the last-second goal, it somehow soared. There was no panic in red. They pushed the play. They blasted shot after shot at Fleury.
Everyone seemed certain this overtime deal would make for a better ending, a little drama for the fun of it. Even the fans. No less than Kid Rock, waiting in a bathroom, declared this was a positive.
"This (is) when the memories are made," the Kid said. Besides, he figured, "at least they didn't shut off beer sales."
The Penguins wouldn't budge, though. This wasn't going to be fun. This wasn't going to be inevitable. They had read the script and rejected their part.
The Red Wings were going to win the Cup and drink the booze and throw a Detroit party that don't stop over the Penguins' dead bodies. Pittsburgh knew what was at stake. Not just the season, but the idea of that beaten handshake line, the trophy presentation, the victory speeches.
"We heard all the plans, the parade, the celebrations, how they were flying their families in here," said defenseman Brooks Orpik. "It rubs you the wrong way."
"Basically," said Sidney Crosby, "it's just survival."
He wasn't speaking figuratively. He meant it. Shift after shift this became a battle of attrition, mental at first, physical at last. "My legs didn't feel very good, to be honest with you," Crosby said.
No one's legs did. Their only solace was it was no better for Detroit. Still, in between the second and third overtime Orpik got his right arm hooked up to an IV, trying to find something for an empty tank.
Jarkko Ruutu went old school.
"I had one slice of pizza," he said. "I think it was pepperoni."
Pizza in the middle of the game? He wasn't alone. The team had emptied a pile of boxes, now stacked up in one corner. It was supposed to be the postgame meal; it became the midgame fuel.
"Little Caesars," Ruutu smiled, knowing that's Red Wings owner Mike Ilitch's chain.
They ate the guy's pizza, delayed his party and then laughed about it in the wee hours of a Detroit night. Everything was going back to Pittsburgh now. No tears tonight.
"Nothing to lose," Orpik said.
Except for the blood and the sweat.
- the Penguins