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Penguins' duo finds scoring touch

by Michael Caples / Detroit Red Wings
PITTSBURGH -- Last spring, the Red Wings were able to shut down the Penguins’ stars Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin.

This spring, it’s starting to look like a different story.

Coming into the 2009 Stanley Cup finals, the talk around the hockey world was that the Pens’ duo had matured since last year’s defeat. Malkin, who seemed to run out of gas by the end of last year, was leading the NHL in postseason scoring. Crosby was just points behind him in second place.

Then the Wings proceeded to virtually keep them off the scoresheet in Games 1 and 2.  Malkin had a goal and an assist; Crosby was held scoreless.

But once again, as the series shifted to the Iron City, the Penguins’ scorers found their touch.  In Game 3, Malkin had three assists, and Crosby had his first point of the series.  And tonight, Malkin had a goal and an assist, and Crosby had a goal and an assist, in sending the Red Wings to a 4-2 defeat in Game 4.

“I think one of the things we've talked about in the start of this playoff run was that the strength of our team would not be that we need just (No.) 87 and (No.) 71 to win hockey games,” Penguins’ coach Dan Bylsma said.  “And that's not the approach we take to the game.”

Though it’s hard to not notice that two of Bylsma’s players are scoring more then the rest.  Malkin now leads the league in postseason statistics with 35 points, and leads in the finals with seven. Crosby is in second with 31 points. The third is Wings forward Johan Franzen with 22.

After saying that his team doesn’t sit around waiting for those two to score, Bylsma acknowledged that it doesn’t hurt to have the Crosby-Malkin duo on the bench.

“We have the luxury of having two very, very good players that can, on any given night, get two points and add to the win,” Bylsma said. “So, I think we think if we play the right way, we give ourselves a pretty good chance to win. You know we’ve played four hard games. They’re hard fought, and it’s not going to get any easier. They’re a very good team. Battle lines will be drawn on Game 5, and it’s going to be a tough one.”

After the game, Crosby said that his goal brought about a feeling of relief.

“Anytime you’re getting chances and it’s not going in, you’ve just got to stick with things,” the Penguins’ captain said. “You don’t want to change a whole lot. You’ve got to just bear down and focus and keep getting those chances. If that happens, hopefully they’re going to go in. I was happy to see one go in.”

Crosby’s goal, which gave the Penguins a 3-2 lead in the second period, was a tap-in on a pass from Malkin. The other Penguins seemed more happy that their captain scored then Crosby did, as Kris Letang tackled him next to the Wings’ net after the goal.

“Didn’t expect Tanger to come that hard,” Crosby said. “He was happy for me. And it feels good to see it go in for sure.”

Goaltender Chris Osgood has seen a lot of Crosby and Malkin of late, and he had lots to say on the duo.

“Crosby makes great passes and he’s a good player,” Osgood said. “He’s one of those guys that makes everyone around him better. … Malkin is playing awesome. I mean, he’s big and physical and he’s a better passer than I thought he was. I mean, I haven’t played him much but he’s making great plays. I said I don’t know how many odd-man rushes we gave up, but we gave up enough to them, they’re going to bite you and they did tonight.”

Wings captain Nicklas Lidstrom said that he has been impressed with Malkin’s play this series.

“We haven’t seen him a whole lot during the regular-season,” Lidstrom said. “He had a great regular-season, scoring a lot of points and being up for the Hart Trophy too, so we know he had an excellent regular-season. It seems he carried that into the playoffs, scoring a lot of goals and setting up goals. He’s a very gifted player and right now he’s just playing real well.”

Bylsma said he was happy for Crosby, mainly so that the media would stop asking if he was struggling this series.

“When the goal went in tonight, I think my first thought was now you guys won’t ask the question,” Bylsma said. “We know how well he’s played. We know he’s gotten scoring chances. We know he’s been in and around the net like he often is and has been throughout these playoffs.

“And to get an assist in Game 3. To get on the board again tonight, those are the things that he can continue to do. You need confidence and you need result. And if people keep questioning you, it wears on you.

“Tonight is just an answer for him to say, hey, I’ve been playing well. Tonight he got the result.  And it was a big result for us. He got the game-winning goal.”

The Wings will look to shut down Crosby and Malkin when the series shifts back to Detroit for Game 5 on Saturday night. 

Center Jordan Staal kicked off a Pittsburgh scoring flurry with a shorthanded tally at 8:35 in the second frame to even the game up at two goals apiece. The Penguins surged to a 4-2 lead, scoring three goals in a 5:37 minutes.

The shorthander marked Staal’s first in the postseason.

“Max made a great play,” said Staal of the play leading up to his goal. “I saw Lidstrom and (Brian) Rafalski both kind of flat footed. And I just kind of buried my head, went for it and kind of snuck it in.”

Detroit surrendered a shorthanded marker for the first time in 41 playoff games and it certainly shifted momentum away from the Red Wings in Game 4.

“You can’t have them score a goal the way they did tonight,” Lidstrom said.

Everyone knows that the Wings penalty kill has struggled this season, but Wings coach Mike Babcock said that he “thought our power play sucked the life out of us tonight.”

Forward Pavel Datsyuk hoped to return to the lineup tonight, but was announced as a scratch after he participated in the pre-game skate.

“I texted Piet (Van Zant) about 3 o’clock, he’s our athletic therapist, and to see what the scoop was,” Babcock said. “And he just told me at that time he didn’t think Pav would be going. He still went for warmup though. Pavel was pushing it to try to go.”

The other players don’t worry about Datsyuk’s return as much as the fans and media appear to do.

“As players, we don’t know much as what’s going on,” netminder Chris Osgood said. “We know he was close one day and not as close the next. I don’t think we really keep our minds on it when Pav is going to be back like a knight in shining armor and save us.”

Games 1 and 2 in Detroit ended in a 3-1 Red Wings victory. The Penguins responded with two 4-2 wins at Mellon Arena to even the series up at 2-2.

The Wings have come out on top after going 2-2 in the first four games of a series numerous times over the years so the team knows what it needs to do.

“I mean we feel as a team that we still haven’t played our best game yet,” Osgood said. “It’s 2-2 so we got to get some rest and re-focus ourselves. We’re not going to panic. We know what we have to do.”

Red Wings intern Christy Hammond contributed to this report.

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