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Wings turn penalty kills into victories

Sunday, 06.01.2008 / 2:50 PM / 2008 Stanley Cup Playoffs

By John Kreiser - NHL.com Columnist

The Detroit Red Wings ability to handcuff Sidney Crosby and the Pittsburgh Penguins power-play unit on 86 second 5-3 penalty midway through the third period of Game 4 of the Stanley Cup Final proved to be a major turning point in the game.
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DETROIT -- The Detroit Red Wings had a one-goal lead and a two-man disadvantage midway through the third period of Game 4 of the Stanley Cup Final. Lined up on the other side were Sidney Crosby and the rest of the desperate Pittsburgh Penguins, seeking to parlay their 86 seconds of 5-on-3 time into the tying goal.

It didn't happen.

In fact, the Red Wings' penalty killers held the Penguins without a shot during the lengthy two-man advantage, a big reason that Detroit left Mellon Arena Saturday with a 2-1 victory, a 3-1 series lead and the chance to wrap up their fourth Stanley Cup in 11 years on home ice Monday night (8 p.m. ET, NBC, CBC, RDS, NHL Radio).

The trio of Henrik Zetterberg, Nicklas Lidstrom and Niklas Kronwall allowed the Penguins only one shot attempt during the two-man advantage -- a long slapper by Evgeni Malkin that missed the net. Zetterberg also made perhaps the biggest play of the game when he tied up Sidney Crosby's stick at the right post, preventing the Pittsburgh star from putting the puck into a half-empty net.

"He made a good play on me; he got my stick," Crosby said of Zetterberg, a finalist for the Selke Trophy as the NHL's top defensive forward. "I don't think he did anything out of the ordinary besides what any other guy would do on a 5-on-3."

But not everyone could do what Zetterberg did next -- he broke up a play and carried the puck down ice on a time-killing rush on which he missed the net with a backhander, but chewed up valuable seconds before the Penguins could regain control of the puck.

"I was thinking of lacrosse at that time," coach Mike Babcock said of Zetterberg's one-man effort. "I always hear my son's coach yelling when they're shorthanded, 'get a hold of it and hang onto it.' That's what he was doing.

"They're just gifted players, and when they compete as hard as they did tonight, they win a lot of battles," he said of the Zetterberg-Lidstrom-Kronwall threesome. "And I thought that was a positive situation for us."

Zetterberg said the Wings used a simple strategy.

"They had the opportunity to tie up the game with the 5-on-3," he said. "We tried to keep it outside and block the shooting lanes. When they got it through, Ozzie made the save."

Actually, Osgood never had to make a save during the long power play, though he did face two shots during the remaining 5-on-4 advantage. He stopped both easily, as the Wings killed off the remaining seconds. Afterward, you could almost feel the air go out of Mellon Arena, as the sellout crowd realized their team likely had missed its best chance to tie the game.

"Bottom line: We needed to score on the 5-on-3 and it was a different game," Hossa said. "We need to score those big goals on the 5-on-3."

Scoring goals of any kind has been difficult against Detroit in the playoffs.

The Wings' penalty-killers have been brilliant. Though they did allow Hossa's first-period power-play goal, they killed off the Penguins' last five power plays and have allowed Pittsburgh just two extra-man goals in 17 advantages through four games -- against a team that had scored 16 times in 65 chances while winning their first three series.

"I thought we tried to be a little more aggressive, even up ice, if we could put pressure on the puck here a little bit more," Lidstrom said of the Wings' strategy in Game 4. "Once they came into our zone, if they weren't really set up, we tried to put more pressure on them, be more aggressive, and not sit back and give them the passing lanes.

"They still got a goal in the first power play they had. But after that, I thought we played a lot better -- a lot more aggressive, too."

Detroit's aggressiveness has paid off all through the postseason. In 20 playoff games, the Wings' penalty-killers have allowed just 11 goals in 88 chances, a superb 87.5 success rate. In addition, they've scored a League-high six shorthanded goals, meaning they've surrendered a net of just five goals, by far the best of any team in the playoffs.

"They've had one of the best PKs in the regular-season, so as much as you want to point fingers at our guys, they gotta give them credit for what they're doing," Pittsburgh defenseman Brooks Orpik said. "Osgood's seeing the puck pretty well … those guys do a great job of taking care of guys' sticks and second chances."

One more night of keeping the Penguins' power play off the board could well mean a fourth Stanley Cup in 11 years for Hockeytown.

 

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