Friday, June 5, 2009

Post Game 4


The Penguins picked a good time for one of their best second period performances of the season.

After a first period that mirrored Game 3's - an early Pittsburgh goal followed by a long stretch of uninspired play by the Penguins - that ended in a 1-1 tie after a horrid turnover by Rob Scuderi, Brad Stuart scored less than a minute into the second and the life was further sucked out of the home crowd, not helped by consecutive penalties on Pittsburgh.

But that's when the Penguins made their move, and special teams was the key. Pittsburgh scored on one of their two power plays (they were given just one other one, but more on that later) while Detroit not just failed to score on any of its four chances but gave up a shorthanded goal to Jordan Staal on a fine individual effort to weave around Brian Rafalski and beat Chris Osgood to tie the game at 2-2.

A possible series-changing sequence, and certainly one that altered the outcome of Game 4.

The Penguins finished killing that penalty and less than a minute after it expired, Malkin made a good play to block a dump-in attempt and raced down the ice in a 2-on-1 with Sidney Crosby.

Malkin's first pass was blocked but it came back to him and he got it through to Crosby, who lifted a shot past Osgood for a 3-2 lead. That prompted Mike Babcock to use his timeout, but it didn't help much.

Pittsburgh excels at scoring in bunches and it didn't take long for Tyler Kennedy to make it 4-2. With a strong forecheck, Kennedy forced a turnover where Chris Kunitz took control. A pass to Crosby followed by a quick one-touch pass the opposite direction gave Kennedy an empty net to shoot at, and he didn't miss.

That made three goals in a span of 5:37. All in all, the second period was one of Pittsburgh's finest of the year, playoffs or regular season. They withstood two Red Wings power plays, got a shortie and ended up taking a rare two-goal lead, just their second of the series. The first came after Max Talbot's empty-netter in Game 3.

And they made that lead hold up, which is a little surprising. Pittsburgh has shown a tendency to give up multiple goal leads in the third period, and the first five minutes of the third looked ominous. Fleury played excellently for the second straight game and gradually the ice evened out a little, with the Penguins able to whittle some clock off in the Detroit end of the rink.

You'll have to forgive me, however, if I wonder why the final score wasn't 5-2. Here's why:

57.4 Awarded Goal - If, when the opposing goalkeeper has been removed from the ice, a player in control of the puck in the neutral or attacking zone is tripped or otherwise fouled with no opposition between him and the opposing goal, thus preventing a reasonable scoring opportunity, the Referee shall immediately stop play and award a goal to the attacking team.

Late in the game, with Osgood on the bench, Kunitz had control of the puck, gazing at an empty net, and was fouled from behind by Niklas Kronwall. Bill McCreary, supposedly one of the NHL's best and most veteran referees, apparently forgot this rule and merely shipped Kronwall to the box for hooking instead of awarding the Penguins a goal. The above is straight from the NHL rulebook and there is nothing that says "referee's discretion." It says in plain black and white, a goal shall be awarded.

Oh well, I guess.

Anyway, it is now a best-of-three series. And in the third period, the Red Wings were looking a bit tired. They hoped to have Pavel Datsyuk back in the lineup but, despite taking the pre-game skate, Datsyuk said he was not ready to play.

Momentum, confidence, and whatnot are definitely on the Penguins' side now, but the Red Wings should be bolstered by playing Game 5 at home, and I'll be shocked if Datsyuk isn't in the lineup Saturday. Babcock will get to play his matchups and force Dan Bylsma to make adjustments based on that. There's probably no one rooting for Datsyuk's return more than Henrik Zetterberg, as maybe Crosby is beginning to wear Zetterberg out.

I thought Crosby and Malkin were great Thursday, and maybe they're figuring out how to get through Detroit's defense. One persistent problem for Pittsburgh is breaking out of the defensive zone, culminated by Scuderi's turnover in the first period. It seemed like just a matter of time before a play like that happened.

Obviously, Game 5 is a turning point for the series. The Penguins should know they can win that game and the series, while the Red Wings are possibly beginning to think they can lose.

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