Shawn P. Roarke | NHL.com Managing Editor
PITTSBURGH -- Detroit had delivered one of its patented knockout blows in the first minute of the second period of Game 4 of the Stanley Cup Final.
But the Pittsburgh Penguins refused to buckle, something that did not happen in the first two games of this series -- a pair of two-goal losses to the defending champions. Instead, Pittsburgh showed championship character by fighting back -- led by inspiring performances from Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin -- to take a series-changing 4-2 victory at Mellon Arena.
Both franchise centers had a goal and an assist in the game and delivered signature moments. Together, they combined to play 40 minutes and 45 seconds, registering a combined nine shots. Malkin, who played the most among Pittsburgh forwards, also had a team-high five hits, the same amount as rugged defenseman Brooks Orpik.
Crosby, the game's second star behind Pittsburgh goalie Marc-Andre Fleury, scored the game-winning goal, with an assist to Malkin.
"When Geno and Sid put their hard hats on, they drive this team," Pittsburgh forward Tyler Kennedy told NHL.com.
The numbers those two players are putting up this postseason are historic.
Malkin leads all playoff scorers with 35 points in 21 games, the most since Wayne Gretzky had 40 with the L.A. Kings in 1993. Crosby, meanwhile, has 31 points to sit second on the scoring chart. The last pair of teammates to top 30 points in one postseason was Brian Leetch and Mark Messier back in 1994.
Malkin said he is not overly concerned with his points, just the wins by his team.
"I don't seek points," Malkin said. "I want to win Stanley Cup."
Defenseman Rob Scuderi sensed right away that his team's top two centers would have their fingerprints all over Game 4.
"I think on Sid and Geno's first couple of shifts, you could tell that they were on right away," Scuderi told NHL.com. "When you have those two talented guys decide to chip it in and go and get it and create offense down low, you know it is going to be a good night for us. I thought they did that from the start and led our team the whole way.
Now, instead of facing a three-games-to-one deficit in the series -- an outcome that looked entirely possible after Stuart scored Detroit's second goal in a span of two minutes and 26 seconds for a 2-1 lead -- Pittsburgh now heads to Detroit, for Saturday's Game 5, having turned a best-of-7 series into a best-of-3 affair.
Afterward, Brooks Orpik was honest enough to admit that Pittsburgh would have been doomed if it was facing elimination in Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Final for the second year in a row.
"We're a confident team, but I don't know if that's achievable, coming back from that," Orpik said. "You never say never, but …"
The Penguins don't have to contemplate that daunting scenario now, though.
Malkin drew a penalty on his first shift of the game and then scored on the ensuing power play, slamming home a wide shot by Kris Letang after it bounded off the end boards.
Then, Jordan Staal scored a shorthanded goal, on the second of consecutive penalty kills, to make it a 2-all game.
"One way for a team to battle back is on the penalty kill," Scuderi said. "It gets the fans into it and it gets the bench into it. You see the guys do a job and we were able to bounce back and come back with a good period of our own."
Less than two minutes after Staal scored, Crosby struck for his first of the Stanley Cup Final. It couldn't have come in a bigger situation.
Again, though, it was Malkin that kick-started the action. The Russian blocked a slap shot from Stuart just inside the blue line to key a 2-on-1 break in the other direction. Steaming down the right wing, with Crosby on the other side, Malkin tried to make a pass to Crosby but defenseman Jonathan Ericsson spread out to block the pass. Malkin calmly collected the puck again and slotted a perfect pass that Crosby steered home.
"That team can really pass and take advantage of their opportunities," Detroit goalie Chris Osgood said. "I'm probably going to make the highlight reel for a while on that third (goal). Not that I like it; but what can I say, they were great goals. They are great players and they're trying their best to help their team."
Crosby added a pretty one-touch pass for a gimme goal by Kennedy to close the scoring at the 14:12 mark of the second period. After that, Pittsburgh nursed its two goal lead to the final buzzer, thanks in part to Fleury, who stopped all 19 shots he faced after the goal by Stuart.
Pittsburgh faced back-to-back kills in the second period when Evgeni Malkin and Brooks Orpik took penalties 1:58 apart. The Penguins’ penalty killers held Detroit to one shot on the first power play before Malkin stormed out of the box and stole the puck from Brian Rafalski at the attacking blue line for an unsuccessful breakaway. A minute later, still on the Orpik kill, Adam Eaton rimmed a clear up the boards, where it was claimed by Max Talbot, who fed a head-man pass to Jordan Staal for another breakaway. Staal put a half-speed forehand shot past Chris Osgood to tie the game at 2-2.
Tyler Kennedy didn't see much ice time in the first two periods -- just eight shifts -- as Pittsburgh coach Dan Bylsma shortened his bench to get his stars out on the ice more. But he made the most of the time he did get by scoring Pittsburgh's third goal. Kennedy pressured Detroit's Henrik Zetterberg as the Wings chased the puck into their own zone. That pressure forced Zetterberg to make a blind bank off the wall, which was claimed just inside the blue line by Kris Kunitz, who made a sharp cross-ice pass to Sidney Crosby, who one-timed the puck to Kennedy, on the opposite post, for an easy one-timer goal.
Detroit coach Mike Babcock tried to slow down the Evgeni Malkin express by putting Henrik Zetterberg against Malkin whenever the situation allowed. Bylsma answered by juggling his lines -- sometimes putting Crosby and Malkin together or placing Malkin with Crosby's wingers. When all was said and done, the Penguins had won the matchup battle. See below.
Pittsburgh has 10 goals in the series and Malkin has figured in seven of them. In Game 4, Malkin followed up his three-point performance in Game 3 by scoring the game-opening goal and assisting on a second-period goal by Sidney Crosby on a 2-on-1 rush.
When Detroit's Brad Stuart scored on a slapper in the first minute of the second period, Detroit had its fourth 2-1 lead in as many games of the Stanley Cup Final. Even more telling, Stuart's goal was Detroit's ninth regular-strength goal of the series. Pittsburgh had just two even-strength goals at that point.
--Shawn P. Roarke