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June 26, 2019
by Michael Menser Dell, Editor-in-Chief
Those filthy Detroit Red Wings ended Pittsburgh's dominance at the Igloo, beating the Penguins 2-1 in Game Five to move within one win of claiming the Stanley Cup.
Pittsburgh got some good news before the first puck dropped, learning Tomas Holmstrom was a scratch. Any night without Holmstrom in front of the net is a good night. The Penguins even got on the board first when Marian Hossa deposited a power-play goal just 2:51 into the contest, employing some magical stickwork to go backhand-forehand to stuff a rebound home from beneath the goal line. All was right with the world.
Detroit battled back to tie the game at 7:06 on a Nicklas Lidstrom slapper from the left point. It may have well been a power-play goal, as Pascal Dupuis' cross-checking penalty had just expired two seconds earlier. Dan Cleary did his best Holmstrom imitation on the play, falling into Marc-Andre Fleury's crease before scurrying to his feet and occupying Sergei Gonchar in front to screen the Pittsburgh netminder.
The goal squashed Pittsburgh's early momentum, and the two teams would play on even terms the rest of the night. It had the feel of a 2-1 game the whole way, and the Wings got that second goal 2:26 into the third.
Brooks Orpik had the puck behind the cage and tried to ring it around the right wing wall. Brad Stuart made a great play to keep the puck in at the point, his second keep of the sequence, and hurriedly threw it back towards the net, barely getting it past an onrushing Jordan Staal.
As the loose biscuit trickled into the right side of the slot, Detroit's Darren Helm collided with Orpik, knocking both players to the ice and allowing the puck to continue on its way. Jiri Hudler was standing alone off the right post and lifted a quick backhander high short-side off Fleury's left shoulder for the winner.
Bad goal for the Flower. It was just a weird play, though. There could have easily been an interference penalty on Helm, and it seemed like everyone froze for a second expecting a whistle. Hudler took advantage, pulling the trigger all quick like and rifling a nice backhander upstairs.
Still, anytime a butterfly netminder gives up a high short-side tally, it's a bad goal. The top corner only opens when they go down. If Fleury keeps his skates and seals the post, there's nothing there. But the kid's still learning. And give Hudler credit. That was a real wizard backhander.
Pittsburgh had the turkey on the table at 9:36 when that weasel Kirk Maltby got whistled for hooking. Just 34 seconds later, Andreas Lilja got the gate for interference, handing the Birds a two-man advantage for 1:26. Game tied, right? Not so fast, my friend.
Michel Therren sent out Kid Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Marian Hossa, Ryan Malone, and Sergei Gonchar. Mike Babcock countered with Team Sweden, using Henrik Zetterberg, Nicklas Lidstrom, and Niklas Kronwall.
Incredibly, the Penguins didn't run the power play through Crosby. Instead, Gonchar was orchestrating things from the left point. That's unbelievable. How do you not get the puck to Crosby? Can you imagine the old school Penguins getting a two-man advantage and not letting Mario Lemieux touch the puck? Ridiculous. And it goes back to coaching. Therrien has no clue how to use superstars.
Anyway, Gonchar blasted a shot into Zetterberg. How can you get a shot blocked on a five-on-three? Inexcusable. After Gonchar tracked down the puck, he moved it to Malkin on the right side. Geno the Broken Scoring Machine-o had a great look at the net and fired a wrist shot wide of the left post. How can you miss the net on a... oh, never mind.
The Penguins would eventually move the puck down low and create a mad scramble in front. Crosby was anticipating as much and slipped in unnoticed at the right post. Well, someone saw him. Zetterberg busted his ass to come back and chop Crosby's stick only a split-second before the puck squirted across the crease. If Zetterberg doesn't get there when he does, it's 2-2, the Igloo is rocking, and the Pens are still on a five-on-four looking for the lead.
"They had a great opportunity to tie it up," said Zetterberg. "And it's a challenge to play against such good players, especially when you're down two guys; they have a lot of room. And you practice a lot on it during the year, and it's fun to have a chance to do it in a game."
Pittsburgh wouldn't get another sniff the rest of the power play. It was a demoralizing display. The Penguins would muster a few chances in the waning seconds of regulation, with Malkin and Hossa buzzing around the net, but Chris Osgood shut the door.
"I thought we really competed hard on the fiveonthree, and we have a veteran team," said Babcock. "And even McCarty did a great job on the bench. Gotta give him a lot of the credit. With six minutes left, he's standing up telling everybody go after them don't back up. I think when you have veterans like that, it helps you get through situations like that."
It was a solid game from both teams. It could have easily gone the other way. The difference was Detroit took advantage of Pittsburgh's inability to clear the zone on the Hudler goal, while the Penguins failed to grab the game by the throat on the five-on-three. If Detroit closes things out, it will be because of Zetterberg's hustle and that monumental kill.
This whole series has reminded me a lot of Pittsburgh's first round clash with Ottawa last season. On paper, the Penguins were a good match for the Sens, but they didn't have the experience or know-how to get the job done. And even though that series ended in five games, people forget Pittsburgh thoroughly outplayed the Senators in Game Four at the Igloo before falling 2-1 on a third-period goal from Anton Volchenkov. The loss crushed their spirit, and they lost Game Five 3-0 in Ottawa.
While the Penguins didn't outplay the Wings in Game Four, they were no worse than their equal. This was about as close a game as you can get. But instead of a brand new best-of-three series, the Wings will now return home to try and hoist the Cup.
Of course, the other big similarity to the 2007 Ottawa series has been Malkin's disappearing act. I have to believe Geno is hurt. He's weak on the puck, he's not looking to shoot, and even when he does, his shots are timid and inaccurate.
"He's battling just like everyone else out there," said Kid Crosby in defense of Malkin. "There's not a lot of room. And to be honest, I don't think anybody's really creating that much out there. He's created a few chances just like everyone else. But I don't think anyone's ran away with dominating the game. That's the nature of playoff hockey."
Malkin, Malone, and Petr Sykora have done absolutely nothing all series. If Crosby could cancel Zetterberg and Datsyuk, which he has, Malkin was supposed to be the difference. Instead, he's been invisible, letting stiffs like Mikael Samuelsson, Valtteri Filppula, and Jiri Hudler outshine him.
After Game Four, Malkin was seen moping in his dressing stall with his head in his hands, apparently at a loss for his poor play.
"Once one goes in, I think it heals everything," said Crosby. "We'll tell him to keep doing the same things. You don't forget he's a great player, and all the things he's been doing. He's going to be rewarded for it. It's just a matter of time. And I don't think we're too worried. He's going to find a way."
He better find it Monday night, of he'll be looking for it all summer.
Detroit's killers were Draper-Maltby, Filppula-Franzen, Zetterberg-Cleary, and Datysuk-Drake up front, and Lidstrom-Lilja and Stuart-Kronwall on the back line. Orange whips all around.
Henrik Zetterberg: Zetterberg made the play of the game, tying up Kid Crosby's stick at the right post on the third-period five-on-three. That's how Stanley Cups and Conn Smythes are won. (Sunshine) Zetterberg.
Brad Stuart: He rang up a game-high seven hits and was instrumental in the winner, keeping the puck in at the stripe not once but twice. (Sunshine) Stuart.
Nicklas Lidstrom: As per usual, he logged a game-high 28:23 in ice time, scoring a goal and playing his usual spectacular brand of hockey. (Sunshine) Lidstrom.
Chris Osgood: Osflop had a swell game, turning aside 22 of 23 shots. Giving up the first goal didn't rattle him in the least.
"I don't really think about it after it was done," said Osgood. "Hossa made a great play. I mean, the guy has unbelievable hands. Not many guys can do that move. He just kind of grabbed the puck and fired at the center and got ready to play again. That's my approach. I don't really look at streaks and records and who wins when they score first.
"You play in that particular game that moment and that's how our team approaches it, and so do I. I didn't think just because they scored the first goal we were going to lose the game tonight. We don't think that as a team.
"We think we can come back and we have good composed team, and we knew we could win. But we had to play very, very well to win."
Osgood actually made a couple big saves, including stops on Pascal Dupuis and Kid Crosby in the second period to keep the game tied. (Sunshine) Osgood.
Marian Hossa: Hossa was flying all night, registering three shots and a goal in 24:01 of ice time. His hands were wicked awesome on the goal, and he also put a backhander off the bar a few minutes later.
Gary Roberts: What would Gary Roberts do? Crush Darren McCarty. Roberts unloaded on the Detroit winger, throwing him into the left wing boards like a lawn dart. Roberts also challenged that weasel Maltby, but Irma La Douche wanted none of it. Shocking, I know. Roberts motioned for Maltby to take off the visor, but Maltby was wearing three more underneath it... not to mention a skirt and pantyhose.
Brooks Orpik: Sure, he was a minus-2 on the night and had a real rough go of it on the game-winner, but Orpik has made himself a multi-millionaire during the Finals, proving he's the mobile, physical defenseman every team covets. He destroyed Dan Cleary twice on the same shift in the second period, and he chalked up five hits overall, raising his playoff total to 86.
Speaking of No. 86, don't forget, the "Get Smart" movie opens June 20 at a theater near you.
I'll keep hope alive. Kid Crosby ain't no joke. He won't go down without a fight. But it'll be tough coming out of Detroit with a win unless Malkin, Malone, and Sykora do something.