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Aftermath Revisited: Pens Take Down Champs

by Sam Kasan / Pittsburgh Penguins
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This game was the Penguins’ finest performance of the season. It wasn’t their most complete performance, as they were outplayed during durations, but they stood toe-to-toe with the bear and didn’t back down. They had many reasons to pack it in as the deck appeared to be stacked against them. They were down a defenseman when Rob Scuderi had to leave the game after blocking a shot. They were on the road playing against the defending Stanley Cup champion. They were badly outplayed during long stretches of the game. The Red Wings looked like they were playing on a higher level. Not to mention, Detroit built leads of 5-2 and 6-4. The Penguins were on life support with time running out, but Pittsburgh refused to die. They didn’t quit and it paid off when they pulled off an improbable comeback, tying the game with 22.8 seconds left. The Penguins were the better team in the third period and overtime. And in sudden death, it was Pittsburgh that delivered the knockout blow.

Statistically, this win counts as two points - no different than any other victory. But for the Penguins it means so much more. They had something to prove to the Red Wings, to the league and to themselves. This win won’t change last year’s result. It won’t give Pittsburgh the Cup or erase the painful loss. But it does exorcise some of the ghosts and vanquishes any doubts that Pittsburgh is an elite team.

The Penguins lost several quality players from last season's Final run. With injuries and free agent losses, there were questions on whether or not this current lineup is as good as last year's. Pittsburgh is a team that not only can play with the favored Red Wings, but beat them in their own land - even with Marian Hossa on the other side. The season is far from over, but the Penguins just knocked off the giant. The road to the Stanley Cup still runs through Detroit and the Penguins passed their first major test. Pittsburgh is still a heavyweight contender.
Jordan Staal scored a hat trick and set up the game-winning goal in overtime as the Penguins erased deficits of 5-2 and 6-4 to defeat the defending Stanley Cup champion Detroit Red Wings, 7-6, at Joe Louis Arena on Tuesday night. Staal set a new career high with four points (3G-1A). He scored all three goals in the third period, including the tying goal with 22.8 seconds left to clinch his second career three-goal night.

The Penguins scored the first goal of the game when Crosby knocked in a puck at 4:34 of the first period. Detroit scored the next three goals - from Darren McCarty, Tomas Holmstrom and Johan Franzen - to take a 3-1 lead. Max Talbot was in the right place at the right time when Petr Sykora’s centering pass deflected off of his skate and into the goal to cut the deficit to 3-2 at 4:14 of the second period. Pavel Datsyuk scored from above the right circle with under two minutes left in the second frame.

The Red Wings extended the lead, 5-2, when Henrik Zetterberg finished off a give-and-go with a man-advantage. The Penguins got some life when Evgeni Malkin scored a power-play goal during a 5-on-3 advantage. Staal cut the lead to 5-4 when he notched his first goal of the game from atop the goal crease. It appeared that Detroit would roll to a victory when Jiri Hudler squeaked a slat shot through Marc-Andre Fleury for a 6-4 lead with under 10 minutes left in the game.

But the rest of the game belonged to Staal. He pulled the Penguins to within a goal when he scored off of a Kris Letang rebound at 15:51 of the third. Staal capped his hat trick with 22.8 seconds left in regulation on a similar rebound in the high slot. He finished off the game by creating a turnover and then setting up Ruslan Fedotenko for the winning goal on a one-timer.

Sidney Crosby warms up before the Stanle Cup re-match with Detroit (photo by Getty)
What Worked: Resiliency
Detroit was dominant at times and looked like they would run away with a victory on several occasions. However, the pesky Penguins wouldn’t go away. They took Detroit’s best shot and were still standing. They scraped, clawed and cycled their way back into the game. They overcame deficits of 5-2 and 6-4. Not to mention they were down to a defenseman for the final three periods. Every time Detroit looked like they delivered the knockout blow, Pittsburgh got back up. They were vastly outplayed for long stretches in the first two periods of the game, but weathered the storm and came back with a third-period hurricane of their own. Instead of folding, the team fought back and got the victory.

What Didn't Work: Neutral Zone Containment
The Red Wings put on a passing clinic. Their breakout passes from the defensemen were right on their forwards tape, giving them a head start into the zone and allowing them to get behind the Penguins' man-down defensive corps. Detroit’s neutral zone passing was just as crisp, quickly jump starting its transition game. All of that resulted in a number of odd-man rushes and tired out Pittsburgh’s defense. Detroit kept Pittsburgh off balance and capitalized on a few opportunities.
Jordan Staal broke out and in a big way. He showed flashes of the type of dominant centerman that he could develop into at this level. He notched his second career hat trick, scoring Pittsburgh’s final three goals in regulation to tie the game at 6-6. On the first goal, he made a beautiful play with the puck in tight on goal, getting it to his backhand and roofing it with limited room. His other two goals looked almost identical. On both occasions he planted himself in the slot and collected a rebound in traffic. With a quick and fluid motion, he buried each opportunity. On the overtime winning play, he backchecked Pavel Datsyuk, a reliable possession player, and forced a turnover. He skated into the zone wide right, pulling Red Wings goalie Chris Osgood high and to his far right. Staal sent a rifle, cross-ice pass to Ruslan Fedotenko. Osgood was completely out of position to make a save and threw his body towards the puck. But Fedotenko had already buried a one-timer into the net for a Penguins victory.

All three of Staal's goals were a result of using his size in front of the net and in the slot. He played physical down low, cycled the puck and skated hard. Other than the goals, Staal looked energized and on a mission. He outhustled Red Wings to loose pucks, took a few body shoots to maintain puck possession and worked hard along the boards. After tying the game in the third, Staal drew a penalty on Detroit defenseman Brian Rafalski, who was forced to hook Staal after the Penguins centerman blew past him for a loose puck. He played nearly 20 minutes of ice time and refused to let the Penguins lose.
Maxime Talbot’s great forechecking created the first Penguins goal. He chased his own dump-in and pressured Brian Rafalski along the boards. He forced a turnover and dropped the puck to Miroslav Satan at the blue line. Rafalski followed Talbot into the slot and Sidney Crosby skated into Rafalski’s vacated zone. Satan sent the puck towards the net and Crosby re-directed the puck past Chris Osgood. Pittsburgh 1, Detroit 0.

Darren McCarty, who was placed on waivers by the Red Wings, got his first goal of season. A blocked shot flew into the air like a punt. Kris Letang batted the puck towards the slot, where McCarty picked it up and wristed it past Fleury. Pittsburgh 1, Detroit 1.

Tomas Holmstrom gave the lead with his first goal in eight games. Holmstrom had a seven-game goal-less streak after he netted six in his first six games. He deflected a rising Lidstrom slap shot from the point on a power play. Detroit 2, Pittsburgh 1.

Detroit got on the board in early in the second period when Johan Franzen scored a power-play goal in his first game back in the lineup following a knee injury. Brooks Orpik was the only defenseman down low, standing above the crease. Jiri Hudler got a pass in the slot. Orpik went to pressure Hudler, who sent a pass over Franzen. The 6-foot-3, 218-pound forward had a wide open net to score into. Detroit 3, Pittsburgh 1.

Pittsburgh got a huge goal at the 4:14 mark of the second period. Petr Sykora collected the puck behind the Detroit net. Max Talbot went to the net and was picked up by Stuart. Sykora sent a pass to the front of the net. Stuart tied up Talbot's stick but not his skates. The puck went off of Talbot’s skate and into the net. The goal revved up the Penguins. They created a 3-on-1 opportunity with Ruslan Fedotenko, Sykora and Evgeni Malkin. The trio got trapped deep but still got the puck onto the net. Then the third line buzzed in the offensive zone. They created a power-play opportunity by cycling the puck and drawing a penalty. Detroit 3, Pittsburgh 2.

Datsyuk nailed the Red Wings fourth goal of the game with a rifled shot from the top of the right circle. Holmstrom was standing in front of the net, completely screening Fleury. Detroit appeared one step ahead of the Penguins during that entire series. Pittsburgh was skating around in their own zone as Detroit moved the puck fluidly to each other. Detroit 4, Pittsburgh 2.

Zetterberg finished a nice give-and-go with Hudler for the Red Wings’ fifth goal with Crosby sitting in the box. Zetterberg dished to Hudler and sped around Hal Gill. Hudler sent the puck back towards the slot, where Zetterberg tapped it in with Gill in pursuit. Detroit 5, Pittsburgh 2.

The turning point of the game was when head coach Michel Therrien called a timeout during Pittsburgh's 5-on-3 advantage. Pittsburgh needed to score on this advantage or the game was over. Assistant coach Mike Yeo drew up a great play that the Penguins executed perfectly. Crosby sent a pass from the right point diagonally to Satan at the low left, drawing in Datsyuk. Satan quickly gave the puck to Malkin at his spot on the left point. It looked like he initially wanted to one-time a shot, but with Datsyuk absent from his zone, Malkin skated in for a closer shot and rung the puck off the pipe and into the net. Detroit 5, Pittsburgh 3.

The Penguins' hustle pulled them to within a goal. Pittsburgh won every loose puck battle on the series. Derek Meech and Staal collided in pursuit of a loose puck. Meech fell down as Matt Cooke collected the puck. Cooke passed it to Staal in front of the net with Meech chasing behind him. Staal pulled the puck to his backhand as Chris Osgood flopped to the ice. Staal roofed the puck into the net. Detroit 5, Pittsburgh 4.

Pittsburgh was completely out of position when Detroit scored its sixth goal. All five Penguins were trapped by the near boards when a cross-ice pass went to Jiri Hudler. He skated in for a closer shot as Pittsburgh scrambled to get back into their zones. Hudler took a shot from above the circle and sent a blast that hit Fleury’s blocker and then trickled into the net. Letang made a diving attempt to keep the puck out but couldn’t get there in time. Detroit 6, Pittsburgh 4.

The Staal-Cooke-Tyler Kennedy line used its best weapon to score Pittsburgh fifth goal, the cycle. The Red Wings can’t make those great passes if they don’t have the puck. The Penguins played keep away deep in Detroit's zone. They held the puck for a little less than a minute. They tired out the Detroit unit, which couldn’t clear the puck. The Red Wings started to skate a little slower and gave Pittsburgh more room to work. Letang used the extra space to send a shot on net. A big rebound came to Staal, who nailed his second goal of the game. Detroit 6, Pittsburgh 5.

Staal notched his second career hat trick and tied the game with 22.8 seconds left in regulation. The Penguins put Fleury on the bench to get an extra attacker. Malkin sent a slap shot on net. Once again, Osgood kicked out a big rebound right to Staal. Staal fought through a stick check by Lidstrom to nail the goal. Pittsburgh 6, Detroit 6.

A great individual effort by Jordan Staal led to the game-winner. He sent a missed shot around the boards. He came all the way around to pickpocket Datsyuk at the Detroit blue line for a turnover. Fedotenko jumped up on the play for a two-on-one rush. Staal skated wide to pull Osgood way out of his net. Staal then sent a quick pass to Fedotenko, who buried a one-timer in the net for the game-winner. Staal made an intelligent play by taking the puck wide. The lone defender is supposed to take away the pass and let the goalie handle the shooter. Osgood setup wide in anticipation for Staal's shot. However, as soon as Staal had Osgood out of position - instead of skating in deeper on the play and allowing the defenseman a chance to take away his pass - he threw a quick pass to Fedotenko. The rest is, as they say, history. Pittsburgh 7, Detroit 6.
Unsung heroes of the night were Mike Zigomanis and Alex Goligoski. Zigomanis came up with a big faceoff win in the Detroit zone with 30 seconds left and the goaltender pulled. He won the draw clean to Goligoski, who skated to the center blue line and dropped the puck to Evgeni Malkin. Malkin slapped it to the net and Staal tied the game on the rebound. Zigomanis was rewarded for his great play of late by taking a regular shift on the top power-play unit. Goligoski led all skaters with 28:12 minutes of ice time. He took double shifts after Scuderi went down. Goligoski was the Penguins workhorse on the blue line, not to mention he got an assist on the tying goal with under a minute left in regulation.

Rob Scuderi had a scare when he blocked a Niklas Lidstrom slap shot. He fell to the ice immediately and failed on several attempts to get back to his feet. He was helped off the ice and into the locker room. He returned late in the first period but couldn’t go after the first intermission. Without Scuderi, Penguins head coach Michel Therrien had all five remaining defensemen taking shifts with each other. Goligoski (28:12) and Darryl Sydor (21:21) logged extended ice time. Scuderi is listed as day-to-day.

Marian Hossa had a great opportunity against his former team with a two-on-one shorthanded chance with Pavel Datsyuk. Datsyuk created a turnover in the high slot and sent the puck to a speeding Hossa. Penguins defenseman Alex Goligoski was the only man back and he slid on the ice to take away the pass. Hossa tried to get the puck back to Datsyuk but Goligoski got his glove on the puck and then threw it to a teammate.

Henrik Zetterberg displayed his blazing speed when he blew past two Penguins for a semi-breakaway. Marc-Andre Fleury was equal to the task and made the save. The play was made by Brad Stuart from his own zone. Stuart sent a breakout pass right to Zetterberg, who was splitting two Pittsburgh players at the Penguins blue line.

Crosby made the shot of the night with 30.9 seconds left. He took a pass a little behind him, collected the puck and spun around to send a backhand shot onto the net that was stopped by Osgood.

Hossa was stopped on another great shorthanded play. He got past Goligoski but Malkin kept him to the right side of the net. Hossa took an initial shot and followed up his own rebound with another shot. Fleury stood tall on both saves to keep him off the board.

Another great pass in the neutral zone from Datsyuk sent Hossa in on a breakaway. Fleury was able to get his pad on the puck. If Detroit scores there, it's a 7-4 game. Fleury kept the Penguins alive.
> Pittsburgh improved to 9-4-2 on the year, with a 5-2-1 mark on the road. The Penguins are 3-0-0 in the month of November. It’s also the third straight road game that Pittsburgh has won when they trailed in the second period.

> Pittsburgh has accumulated 20 points through 15 games this season. That point total is the Penguins best start since the 1995-96 season, when they began with a 9-3-3 mark for 21 points.

> Sidney Crosby opened the scoring with his fourth goal of the season at 4:34 of the first period. Darren McCarty tied the game, 1-1, with his first goal of the season at 13:21. The Red Wings had a 2-1 advantage at the end of the first period with Tomas Holmstrom’s power-play goal at 15:19. Detroit added to their lead, 3-1, with a power-play goal from Johan Franzen 1:09 into the second period. Talbot got his fourth goal of the season when a Petr Sykora centering pass went off his skate and into the net at 4:14. Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg extended Detroit’s lead to 5-2. Evgeni Malkin scored a power-play goal on a 5-on-3 advantage and Jordan Staal scored his first goal of the game at 8:09 to pull Pittsburgh to within one, 5-4. Jiri Hudler notched his third goal of the year at 10:14 for a 6-4 advantage. Staal scored two late goals in the final five minutes, including the tying goal with 22.8 seconds left. Staal then setup Ruslan Fedotenko’s overtime game-winner at 3:49 of the extra period.

> Both teams finished the game with 34 shots on net. The Penguins dominated the third period and overtime, registering a 16-8 edge in the third and a 4-0 advantage in overtime. The Penguins have either tied or outshot their last four opponents.

> Jordan Staal scored his second career hat trick (Feb. 10, 2007 at Toronto). He also set a new career high with four points in the game (3G-1A).

> Evgeni Malkin recorded two points (1G-1A) at Detriot. He’s registered at least one point in 14 of Pittsburgh’s 15 games this season. He’s also riding an 11-game scoring streak, the longest in the NHL this season. During that stretch he’s compiled 21 points (4G-17A).

> Malkin is the NHL’s leading scorer. Following his two-point effort at Detroit, he now has 24 points on the season, with five goals and 19 assists. His 19 assists are also a league best. Malkin is on pace to notch 104 assists on the season. Only three players in NHL history had a 100-assist season (Bobby Orr, Wayne Gretzky and Mario Lemieux).

> Max Talbot recorded his first two-point game of the season. He also netted his third goal in the past four games.

> Sidney Crosby had a three-point night (1G-2A) at Detroit. He’s totaled one goal and five assists (six points) in the last four games.

> Marc-Andre Fleury won his seventh game of the season in 12 games. Last season he didn’t register his seventh win until Nov. 30, his 18th game.
1. Jordan Staal, PIT
2. Jiri Hudler, DET
3. Sidney Crosby, PIT
“We can come back from anything. This team’s got heart and
we battled back.”
- Jordan Staal told Versus Network


Story originally published Nov. 11, 2008.

Author: Sam Kasan

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