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March 24, 2019
That's More Like It
by Michael Menser Dell, Editor-in-Chief
It's funny how quickly things change. It turns out those poor pitiful Penguins who were so outclassed and didn't deserve to be on the same ice as the mighty Red Wings aren't so feeble after all.
Before the puck dropped for Game Three of the Finals, everyone was ready to hand the filthy Red Wings the Stanley Cup. It was shameful. Sure, Detroit won Games One and Two by a combined score of 7-0, but so what? The Pens were just making it fun.
The Arctic Birds returned to the Igloo for Game Three and waddled away with a 3-2 win behind a pair of goals from Sidney Crosby and 32 saves from Marc-Andre Fleury. It was a banner night in the Burgh. They haven't been this happy since that truck of Iron City overturned down on the South Side.
Michel Therrien's whining about the officiating paid early dividends, as the stripes whistled Johan Franzen for holding just 1:04 into the contest. Pittsburgh's power play created a couple quality chances, requiring Chris Osgood to make a big save on a Ryan Malone snapper from the slot.
Detroit survived the early push and then used two power plays of their own to take command of the next 12 minutes or so, at one point owning a 7-1 advantage in shots. Therrien loaded up his top line with Kid Crosby, Marian Hossa, and Evgeni Malkin for a shift, and the talented trio helped swing momentum back Pittsburgh's way. The Bird's carried it the rest of the period, finally getting on the scoreboard at 17:25.
Brad Stuart attempted to trigger the Detroit breakout by drilling Henrik Zetterberg in the ankle with a pass. It's an advanced technique, but Stuart executed it to perfection. Kid Crosby pounced on the loose biscuit and busted towards the net, setting the table for Hossa in the slot. Hossa's initial bid caught Stuart in the leg, causing the puck to flutter right to Crosby at the bottom of the left circle. Sid shoveled a shot under Osgood to slay the dragon.
Crosby made it 2-0 with a power-play goal at 2:34 of the second, swatting a Hossa rebound behind Osgood. And somewhere, Kristen Bell wept.
Johan Franzen gave the filthy Wings life with a power-play goal of his own at 14:48. Franzen danced around Rob Scuderi on the left wing boards and walked untouched to the front of the cage before stuffing a forehand shot over Fleury's right pad. It was a spectacular goal, so let's move on.
Pittsburgh reestablished the two-goal lead at 7:18 of the third when Adam Hall got all Fast Eddie Felson, banking a shot from behind the net off Osgood's leg. Gary Roberts started the play with a bone-crushing hit on Andreas Lilja in the right wing corner. Max Talbot worked the puck off the back wall to Hall streaking down the slot. Osgood stopped Hall's first try, a weak, off-balanced backhander at the left post, but got caught between trying to chase down the rebound and staying in his crease. Realizing he had wandered too far, Osgood scurried back to his net only to have Hall use him as a billiard cushion.
Detroit didn't fold and mounted a comeback, getting a fluke goal from Mikael Samuelsson at 13:37 to make it 3-2. The Wings were even handed a gift power play with 4:18 left in regulation, but the Birds shut the door, clawing their way back into the series.
These are two exceptional hockey clubs. They're basically mirror images. Games One and Two would have gone exactly like this one had Pittsburgh cashed in on one of their early chances, and they had huge opportunities in both games. Eventually those pucks were going to go in. Last night they did.
Pavel Datsyuk: He was pointless again and finished minus-1, but Datsyuk continues to impress. He absolutely destroyed Ryan Malone with a beautiful shoulder check along the boards in the second period.
The Pens were about to get called on a delayed penalty. Malone, skating up the left wall of the defensive zone, was taking his time touching the puck, allowing Datsyuk to waltz in and drop the hammer. Tough series for Malone. First Kronwall and now Datsyuk. Sobriety never hit so hard.
I had no idea Datsyuk was so physical. And standing up to Roberts in Game Two, as dumb as it was, earned points in my book.
He also dazzled with his skills, freaking Hal Gill along the backboards in the first period before setting up Brad Stuart for a glorious scoring chance. Datsyuk is special.
Johan Franzen: The Mule scored a sweet goal. And he managed to make it through the game without getting whacked in the head.
Tomas Holmstrom: Holmstrom was a nuisance all night in front of the net, drawing two cross-check penalties to Hal Gill. Holmstrom took a beating, though. Gill smacked him around like he was Franzen's head, even flipping him hard to the ice late in the third. Holmstrom was wicked slow to get up, and word on the street is the Swedish winger may have suffered a torn groin or a sports hernia on the fall. If that's the case, Holmstrom will be done for the series. Stay tuned.
Sidney Crosby: In Detroit, Mike Babcock dictated the matchups, getting Zetterberg, Datsyuk, and Lidstrom out against Crosby. While Therrien was right in saying he didn't mind the matchup, since it at least kept Detroit's top line in check, he embraced actual coaching on home ice, using the last change to keep Sid away from them as much as possible.
But think about that matchup for a minute. Kid Crosby is facing two Selke nominees and a five-time Norris Trophy winner whenever he's on the ice. That's ridiculous. I reckon you'd have to go back to the old school Montreal teams to find a similar assemblage of defensive might.
With a little more room to operate, Sidney dominated from the opening faceoff. He was the best player on the ice all night, using his speed and quickness to decimate Detroit's formidable defense. After three games, the Datsyuk-Zetterberg line and the Crosby line have each produced one even-strength goal. Malkin's inability to generate offense is what crippled the Birds in Motown. If Kid Crosby is canceling Datsyuk, Zetterberg, and Lidstrom, Malkin has to make hay.
Gary Roberts: The old man of the ice was a beast. He had five hits on the night, including the destruction of Lilja. Fear Roberts.
Brooks Orpik: Orpik was a jukebox; the hits just kept on comin'. He finished with a game-high seven on the night, but he had a shift in the third worthy of song. In a span of 14 seconds, he rang up four hits in the defensive zone, blasting Kris Draper, Dallas Drake (twice), and Dan Cleary. Four hits, including three knockdowns, in 14 seconds? That's a new record, breaking the mark previously held by Ike Turner.
Marc-Andre Fleury: In the wake of Pittsburgh finally finding the net, Fleury's performance will probably get overshadowed, but he turned in a number of spectacular stops. A few highlights included stoning Brad Stuart on the aforementioned Datsyuk setup, robbing Jiri Hudler with the right pad halfway through the second, and robbing Datsyuk with the same pad in the third. While those first two losses were hardly Fleury's fault, he could have played better. In Game Three, he came through like a champ.
Jarkko Ruutu: The Finnish Slash didn't stand out much on the ice, but he verbally mauled that weasel Kirk Maltby. During one such exchange, Pierre McGuire reported Ruutu told Maltby to sit down and "retire already." Zing!
Michel Therrien: I think my feelings on Therrien are well documents, but Game Three was like his bar mitzvah. Today he is an NHL coach.
First, he worked the refs, bitching and moaning about the lack of obstruction calls. Sure, Detroit was still obstructing like chimps, but at least it earned a couple calls.
Then Therrien sat young Kris Letang in favor of grizzled vet Darryl Sydor. A two-time Cup winner, Sydor stabilized Pittsburgh's blue line, playing 13:31 of solid hockey.
As hard as it is to believe, Therrien actually displayed the willingness and ability to match lines, keeping Crosby away from Zetterberg, Datsyuk, and Lidstrom whenever possible. He also threw the big boys together for a momentum-changing shift in the first period to get things rolling.
But Therrien's best work was done before the game. He gathered his troops and showed them a tape of all the little mistakes they had been making in the losses, pointing out that the effort simply wasn't good enough to win a Cup. The boys took the words to heart. Lesson learned.
Although, personally, I think it would have been much cooler if he gathered everyone around to watch the original "Shaft." Can you dig it? Right on.
The two clubs won't meet again until Saturday night. In this situation, the extra day helps Pittsburgh. That's another day for the confidence to swell. It could also be huge for Evgeni Malkin. Even though he looked better in Game Three, he's admittedly tired. Expect his best game of the series.