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For Staal, as easy as signing on the dotted line

by Larry Wigge
DETROIT -- They're still buzzing about that shorthanded goal by Jordan Staal that helped the Pittsburgh Penguins to a 4-2 victory against the Detroit Red Wings in Game 4 of the Stanley Cup Final to even the series at two wins apiece.

Penguins General Manager Ray Shero was smiling ear-to-ear after seeing a goal that could wind up being the defining moment of the series if Pittsburgh goes on to win. Shero remembered a story he heard about young Staal before he picked him with the No. 2 choice in the 2006 NHL Entry Draft.

"When the Staal boys were growing up in Thunder Bay, Henry, their father, would ask each boy every year if he wanted to play hockey the following season and, if he did, away they'd go to register," Shero recalled. "Then, one year, when Jordan was 9 or perhaps 10 years old, he surprised his father by informing him he wanted to play in the NHL one day.

"Henry told Jordan about the need for commitment, discipline and sacrifice and that if he had all of those, well, one day, he might realize his dream. To which Jordan responded, 'Can't you just sign me up?'"

True story? Apparently.

"I heard about that one day and I asked Jordan if it really happened," Shero added, with a laugh. "He said, 'Uh-huh.' "

Trivial pursuit -- With Pavel Datsyuk officially scheduled to start in Game 5, the question might become moot. But here it is anyway.

Has there ever been a leading scorer on a team during the regular season miss the entire Final series? And how did that team do?

For the record, twice before the leading scorer for a team became unavailable and actually missed the entire Final series. Need a clue? Both teams are in the East. Need another hint? One team won without their leading scorer, the other didn't. One more clue: One happened more than 60 years ago, the other more than 20 years ago.

Give? The Bruins swept the Red Wings in the 1941 Final without their leading scorer, Bill Cowley. Also, the Flyers lost to Edmonton in 1987 in a hard-fought seven-game series without Tim Kerr.

Just wanted to open your mind to a mind-bender.

The Sid and Geno show continues -- Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin each scored a goal in Game 4. Crosby and Malkin are the top two scorers in the 2009 playoffs with 15 and 14 goals, respectively. It should be pointed out that this was only the fourth time that they scored goals in the same game in 21 playoff contests this year.

The two-pronged duo of Crosby and Malkin each have 30 or more points, making them the first pair of teammates to do that since Brian Leetch (with 34 points) and Mark Messier (30) for the 1994 Rangers.

Also, Crosby and Malkin each have 12 multiple-point games in the playoffs, the most for any player since Mario Lemieux tied an NHL record with 14 in 1991 -- originally set by Wayne Gretzky in 1988.

Pittsburgh Penguins Stanley Cup Final GearWith 35 points in 21 games, Malkin has registered the highest playoff scoring total since Wayne Gretzky had 40 in 24 games with the 1993 Los Angeles Kings. Actually, Malkin has an opportunity to complete a rare double if he wins the playoff scoring race. Just four players have won both the regular-season and playoff scoring titles since 1968: Wayne Gretzky (four times), Guy Lafleur and Phil Esposito (twice) and Mario Lemieux.

"They are both really high-end players and I don't think you can cancel them out for the whole series," Wings coach Mike Babcock said. "But I think you can make it as hard as possible on them."

We've heard this somewhere before -- I was listening to Red Wings captain Nicklas Lidstrom after Game 4 and he said something kind of interesting.

"It's hard when you're playing well for the first half of the game and then you make a couple of mistakes, a couple of breakdowns, and they score right away on them," said Lidstrom. "We didn't keep our composure in the second period."

And here's what he said later in that same interview.

"We have to continue to get the puck in deep," continued Lidstrom. "We were trying to make that extra pass -- or that sideways pass in the neutral zone -- and they're back-checking real hard, so we're passing it right back into their players."

Until the last two games that's exactly what Pittsburgh coach Dan Bylsma and his players were preaching to get their game straightened out.

"I've said this many times during the playoff run, the greatest thing about this trophy is how hard it is. And when you have injuries, it's harder. Suck it up and find a way to win. Who cares. No one cares except about the team who wins in the end. You get your name on that thing, it's the greatest summer of your life. That's still our plan."
-- Red Wings coach Mike Babcock

Not just the intangibles -- It's more than losing your drive or your focus in a game. But when it happens in the Stanley Cup Final, it doesn't make sense at such an important time of the year. But ...

Said Marian Hossa of Detroit, "Sometimes when things are not going your way, you think too much and don't play with your instincts."

Instincts tell you when you should have your focus, when you need to shift into the next gear. All those good things. Right, Marian?

It's no Miracle on Ice -- Brooks Orpik, who was named after the late Hall of Fame coach Herb Brooks, said the Penguins never gave up believing they could come back from a 2-0 deficit against Detroit.

"When we went down 2-0 last year, we were kind of shell-shocked and we knew we weren't the better team," Orpik said. "After the first couple of games, we felt we played really well and deserved at least a split in Detroit. We were still a really confident group coming back down 2-0. It feels a lot different than last year."

No such thing as momentum -- For years, Coachspeak 101 began with the motivational tool of saying momentum could be had by just one win, one play at the end of a game. Not the case with Detroit's Mike Babcock or Pittsburgh's Dan Bylsma.

When told that Babcock said after Game 4 that momentum was only as good as the first shift in your next game, Bylsma echoed the sentiment, saying, "Hey, I see every game as a separate entity. If we have the momentum right now, we have to re-establish it with our first shift or how we play in the next game."

Next save wins -- Experts talk about the last shot in basketball or the last at-bat in baseball being the winner in a high-scoring game. Red Wings goaltender Chris Osgood sounded like he was saying that the last save will win this series against Pittsburgh now that the teams are tied at two games apiece.

"They've got a good team, so do we," said Osgood, after stopping 27 of 31 shots in Game 4. "That's what everyone said coming into the series. To me, that's what you've seen.

"We'd like to be 3-1, but we're right where we probably should be the way the games have went. It's a best-of-3 now and we have to focus on playing our best."

All hands on deck -- For the Penguins at least that was the case in a convincing Game 4 victory ... from everyone on the Pittsburgh roster.

Bylsma offered this observation, "At the start of the playoffs we talked about how the strength of our team would not be that we had just 87 (Crosby) and 71 (Malkin) to win hockey games. And that's the approach we take to the game. On any given night it could be anybody."

It could be Kris Letang or Tyler Kennedy. Or ...

No rookie jitters -- When Darren Helm scored for the Red Wings in Game 4 Thursday that gave Detroit three different rookies with a goal in the Stanley Cup Final, along with Justin Abdelkader and Jonathan Ericsson. Furthermore, Detroit is the first team to have three different rookies score a goal in the Final since the 1988 Bruins, who accomplished the feat on goals by Greg Hawgood, Bob Joyce and Glen Wesley.

Bottom line -- The job is up and down. It's study the films all night. It' going over every detail with the players.

"I've said this many times during the playoff run, the greatest thing about this trophy is how hard it is," Babcock said. "And when you have injuries, it's harder. Suck it up and find a way to win. Who cares. No one cares except about the team who wins in the end. You get your name on that thing, it's the greatest summer of your life. That's still our plan."

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