Known for his ability to play on both sides of the ice, Staal turned what appeared to be a deadly situation into pure bedlam at Mellon Arena on Thursday night, as he erased a 2-1 deficit in the second period with a shorthanded goal en route to the Pens' 4-2 victory against the Detroit Red Wings in Game 4 of the Stanley Cup Final.
"It's obviously one of the biggest ones of my career so far," said Staal, who entered with just two goals this postseason. "I think you can't beat a Stanley Cup Final goal. To try to change a game like that, it's pretty exciting."
That's exactly what Staal did. The second period certainly didn't start the way the Pens had hoped, as Brad Stuart gave the Wings a 2-1 lead just 46 seconds in on a slap shot from the point. Pittsburgh then proceeded to take back-to-back penalties, starting with Evgeni Malkin's hooking call at 5:44. Just as Malkin was about to get out of the box, Brooks Orpik was handed a tripping penalty and gave Detroit another golden opportunity to grab a two-goal lead.
Truth be told, the Penguins had about as much momentum at that point as "Sudden Death" did at the box office.
While some in the building may have panicked, Staal did not. With his team in desperate need of a lift, Staal took a feed from Max Talbot in the neutral zone and then cruised past Wings defenseman Brian Rafalski for a breakaway. Staal erased Detroit's lead when his low wrist shot beat Chris Osgood at 8:35. It was just his third goal of the playoffs, but the 20-year-old's tally couldn't have come at a better time.
"That's everything we want to be about," Pens defenseman Hal Gill said. "We kill a big penalty, and then Staal's driving the net and gets a huge goal. We responded after that."
"Max made a great play. I saw (Nicklas) Lidstrom and Rafalski both kind of flat-footed. I just kind of buried my head, went for it and kind of snuck it in." -- Jordan Staal on his shorthanded goal in Game 4Pittsburgh coach Dan Bylsma agreed.
"It certainly changed the complexion of the game," Bylsma said. "They had the two power plays. There would have been a chance to go up 3-1, and Jordan with speed up the ice makes a strong move to the net like he can with his big body and scores a great goal for us. That kind of got us rolling there in the second."
It also was a long time coming. The Penguins hadn't scored a shorthanded goal in this round since Bob Errey accomplished the feat against the Chicago Blackhawks back in Game 2 of the 1992 Stanley Cup Final -- the last time Lord Stanley called Pittsburgh home. On Thursday night, the flood gates opened after Staal's tally, as Sidney Crosby gave Pittsburgh the lead 1:59 later before Tyler Kennedy made it 4-2 at 14:12 of the second.
"It took me a little while to get another one," said Staal, who hadn't scored since May 13 at Washington. "Max made a great play. I saw (Nicklas) Lidstrom and Rafalski both kind of flat-footed. I just kind of buried my head, went for it and kind of snuck it in."
When it's all said and done, Staal's goal may have changed the complexion of this series, which shifts back to Detroit for Game 5 on Saturday night (8 p.m. ET, NBC, CBC, RDS). A power-play goal by the Wings during that sequence may have allowed the defending champs to go home with a 3-1 advantage.
Instead, Detroit's lead in this series is no more.
"I always have a concern any goal could swing the momentum," Wings coach Mike Babcock said. "You never know what shift or what play or anything can turn the momentum one way or the other in your favor. Obviously, we had the game going pretty good. The crowd was pretty quiet. Our power plays hurt us, for sure, and sucked the life out of us."
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