After winning Games 3 and 4 to pull even in this emotional best-of-7 series, the Pens left Detroit a beaten and puzzled team following a 5-0 loss to the Red Wings on Saturday night.
It wasn't until a string of five consecutive penalties by the Penguins in the second period -- the first three of which became power-play goals for Detroit -- did the Wings truly begin to find their hockey legs. That's when the Penguins began to unravel right before the eyes of coach Dan Bylsma.
"We came out skating well (in the first period) and got into the offensive zone and created some scoring chances," Bylsma said. "They got that first goal (by Dan Cleary in the first) and then got the goal in the second (Valtteri Filppula). Then they scored that power-play goal (Niklas Kronwall at 6:11 of the second) and that hurt; if we were able to get that kill, maybe we could have taken some momentum."
The Penguins, who watched the Wings go 3-for-9 on the power play in the game, will try to keep their season alive on Tuesday in Game 6 at Mellon Arena.
The game appeared to be going Pittsburgh's way at the outset. The Pens produced three quick shots in the opening 2:44 and appeared to be gaining steam with each passing shift. It was the perfect start to the most important game. During a 58-second sequence, the Pens looked unstoppable. It began with 7:34 left when Tyler Kennedy fired a hard wrist shot. That was followed by a big hit on Kronwall by Jordan Staal and a Craig Adams wrister that Chris Osgood corralled for a defensive-zone draw. The momentum didn't end there either, as Sidney Crosby won a draw against Henrik Zetterberg before Sergei Gonchar and Crosby drilled shots on Osgood just seconds apart.
The Pens were clicking, the lines had jump and the bench was encouraged. But just eight seconds after Crosby's shot, the Wings grabbed the momentum when Dan Cleary beat Marc-Andre Fleury with 6:28 remaining for the first of five unanswered goals.
"It was difficult because we tried to keep things together and generate chances, but it's frustrating because, in the playoffs, you expect the games to be intense and tight," Crosby said. "That wasn't the case here and this result kind of came out of left field after we had played two good games in this building to begin this series."
The Penguins, who were shut out for the second time in the playoffs -- the other was a 3-0 loss to the Flyers in Game 5 of the opening round -- were whistled for three minor penalties and three misconducts in the third period as their frustration continued to grow. For the game, the Penguins totaled 48 minutes in penalties, including three misconducts.
"We lost our discipline in the second and took frustration penalties and that can't happen in the playoffs," forward Max Talbot said. "But if you told me at the start of the season that we would be down 3-2 in the Stanley Cup Final and going home, I would take that every time."
Said defenseman Rob Scuderi: "I felt at even strength, we were fine, but took too many penalties and you're not going to beat the Red Wings taking all those penalties. It comes down to this -- we have to win the next game. We've played well the entire series and if we win the next one, we can bring it back here."
The Penguins did have six shots and held Detroit scoreless in the third, which might be considered a victory in itself.
"I suppose it's easier to lose a game this way than a close one," Crosby said. "When you don't play well at all, you have nothing to do but improve and the situation is clear for us right now -- we have to go home and win.
Contact Mike Morreale at email@example.com.