Red Wings grab 3-1 series lead
Phil Coffey | NHL.com Editorial Director
PITTSBURGH – The Detroit Red Wings now have a 3-1 stranglehold on the 2008 Stanley Cup Final thanks to Saturday night’s 2-1 win at Mellon Arena that saw the Wings frustrate the Pittsburgh Penguins at nearly every turn, especially in the third period when the Wings denied a 5-on-3 Penguins power play for 1:26.
The Wings now will attempt to win the Stanley Cup on home ice Monday night (8 p.m. ET, NBC, CBC, RDS, NHL Radio).
Playing without first-line winger Tomas Holmstrom, out with a reported hamstring injury, the Red Wings still found a way to win by emphasizing strong forechecking and defense that frustrated the Pens time and again.
"That was the one thing we wanted to do a little better today," said Henrik Zetterberg, who was tremendous throughout and helped prevent the Penguins from tying the game on the 5-on-3. "We want to have a little bit more poise in our own end. We want to make some good decisions down there. I think we did. They got opportunity to tie up the game with the 5-on-3 in the end there.
"We played good," Zetterberg continued. "We tried to keep them outside and tried to be in the shooting lanes. And when they got a puck through, Ozzie (Chris Osgood) made a save."
The game-winning goal came off the stick of Jiri Hudler, who broke a 1-1 tie at 2:26 of the third period, capitalizing on some great work by his teammates to keep the puck alive in the Pittsburgh zone. Defenseman Brad Stuart made a terrific play at the right point to keep a bouncing puck on-side and got the puck deep to Darren Helm. He got it across to Hudler, who scored his fifth of the playoffs on a backhander that hit the post to Marc-Andre Fleury’s left, then went off the goaltender and finally into the net.
"I ended up behind the net, forechecking," Hudler said of the game-winning goal. "The puck was bouncing, and Stewie just kept it in the zone. I turned around right before the puck came to me and tried to put it on the net. I tried to go higher, because he’s (Fleury) great down low. It was kind of lucky, but we’ll take it. It was a good shift for us. I’m glad it went in."
"Once or twice we could have brought the puck out," Pens coach Michel Therrien said of the defensive breakdowns on Hudler’s goal. "This is a good team. And they find a way to win. Good teams find a way to win. Their fourth line scored the winning goal. So what are you going to say?"
The Penguins had a golden opportunity to tie the game when Kirk Maltby was called for hooking at 9:36 and then joined in the box by Andreas Lilja at 10:10 after he was called for interference on Sidney Crosby. The two penalties resulted in a 5-on-3 advantage for 1:26 for the Pens, but ended up resulting in tremendous frustration for the home team.
"We missed the net a few times," Sidney Crosby said. "And there were a couple pucks laying on the crease we just didn't put in. I think if we went back, we'd try to hit the net and generate more from that. But we got set up there for a while, and just couldn't put it in."
In quick succession, Evgeni Malkin fired the puck wide and a point shot from Sergei Gonchar was blocked. The best chance was off the stick of Crosby down low, but Henrik Zetterberg raced back in time to prevent what appeared to be a sure goal, getting his left skate in place to block Crosby’s shot.
"It was interesting," Babcock said of watching Zetterberg maneuver against Crosby. "I was thinking of lacrosse at that time. 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. And I thought that was a positive situation for us. But you know I've been telling people for three years how good Zetterberg is. And so this isn't a surprise to me. He's just a conscientious, good two-way player. So is (Pavel) Datsyuk. But we have a lot of good players."
"You know, they had a great opportunity to tie it up," Zetterberg said. "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’s Marian Hossa had another good chance in close, but was denied in close as the penalties – and the Penguins’ hopes in Game 4 – expired.
"There's no doubt we needed to get that goal," a disappointed Therrien said of coming up dry on the 5-on-3. "We didn't execute well. We got a good chance to tie up the game right there, and we didn't do the job.
"He did a great job," Therrien said of Zetterberg. "But on a 5-on-3, we needed better execution."
"The 5-on-3 for us was huge," Hudler said. "There’s so much talent in front. It was almost a minute-and-a-half. It’s not like 20 seconds. We killed that power play and we were focusing on staying back. We knew they were going to come hard."
"It was very important for the team to be able to prove to ourselves we can kill those types of penalties off," Nicklas Lidstrom said. "And I thought our battle levels got higher and higher as the game went along, too. I thought the first period they won a lot of one-on-one battles for the puck, whereas second half of the game I thought we were quicker on pucks. We won those battles that we didn't win the first half of the game."
Hossa and Lidstrom swapped first-period goals in the penalty-strewn first period that saw the Wings out-shoot the Pens by a 14-9 count.
Dallas Drake got Detroit into early penalty trouble when he was called for roughing Ryan Whitney at 2:11, sending the Pens to the power play where they capitalized on a nice effort by Hossa.
Crosby slid the puck across to Gonchar at the right point and Hossa pounced on the rebound of his shot from the point. Hossa made some nifty stickhandling moves in close to Osgood’s right and slipped the puck into the far side of the net for the power-play goal.
With 15:45 left in the first, Hossa had another great chance, but his rising backhander rang off the crossbar, a shot Hossa and the Pens would love to have seen go the other way thanks to Lidstrom’s goal later on.
Lidstrom’s third of the playoffs came two seconds after the Pens had killed off a Pascal Dupuis cross checking penalty. Lidstrom took a pass from Brian Rafalski and his drive from the left point beat a screened Fleury, who couldn’t see around the jousting Gonchar and Dan Cleary in front.
The Penguins had a couple more opportunities with the extra man when Rafalski was called for roughing at 9:03 and Kris Draper was boxed for holding at 14:28, but the Wings did a tremendous job killing the penalties, forcing the Penguins to play on the perimeter and choking off passing lanes.
With 1:14 left in the first, the Penguins had another good scoring chance, with Malkin making a terrific pass behind the Detroit defense to Dupuis. The problem was the pass was so good it surprised Dupuis, who couldn’t get a stick on the puck.
The scoreless second period seemed to be a struggle for both teams. The Red Wings’ checking was terrific, frustrating the Penguins time and again while slowing the pace of the period dramatically.
The Penguins had eight shots in the second, the Wings seven, a 21-17 edge for the Red Wings after two periods. The ironic element of the second was the Penguins actually had better chances to break the tie, while the Wings had difficulty hitting the net.
Early on, with 16:34 remaining in the period, Osgood was forced to make a save after Dupuis picked off Lidstrom and Crosby redirected the puck, forcing Osgood to make the save.
Jordan Staal went off for interference at 3:44 and Fleury made a nice save on a backhander by Cleary, but the Penguins killed off the remainder of the power play.
Malkin had another good chance with 8:13 left, but his wrap-around shot slipped through the crease without any teammate able to get in position to convert the drive. With 6:32 left, Osgood made good saves on Crosby and a follow-up shot by Dupuis.
The Wings had a good opportunity to break the tie with five minutes left in the period on a big scramble in front that saw Fleury smother the puck and then reach behind him to make sure the puck didn’t slip across the line.
Despite the 3-1 deficit, neither the Penguins or Red Wings will admit to the series being close to over – especially the Penguins, who noted repeatedly the difference in the game was just one goal.
"Tonight could have gone either way," Crosby said. "We know we have to even play better, but it's nice to know that we're right there and we play our game. There's no choice now. I mean, we've got to win to stand.
"Like I said, it could have went either way. But our effort was there and we created some chances, and they didn't go in. It was anyone's game. It's 1-1 and the next goal pretty much wins, and they got it."
Crosby liked a lot of what he and his teammates did in Game 4.
"We did a pretty good job of being patient," Crosby said. "And like I said before, it's a tight game out there. And sometimes when they're pressuring like that, it's easy to maybe give the puck away a little easier and not react the right way, make bad decisions. But we did a good job of being pretty poised, I thought, with the puck and making good decisions, managing it well. And we created chances from that. So we'll take that game for sure and try to do the same thing in Detroit.
"We have to win one," Crosby said. "We have to win one to get back. So that's the way we're thinking, and they scored two tonight. We scored one, so I don't think they're running away with it. I don't think we're playing catch-up either, so we'll battle them in Detroit and see what happens."
From Detroit’s perspective, Babcock said there is still room for improvement from his side.
"We thought we were OK how we played," he said. "But yet we didn't win enough battles. And we didn't compete hard enough in the first, and then we competed harder and harder as the game went on.
"I thought we really competed hard on the 5-on-3, and we have a veteran team," Babcock said. "And even (Darren) 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."