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Wings win special teams battle in Game 5

by Michael Caples / Detroit Red Wings
It could have been the return of Pavel Datsyuk.  It could have been a change in strategy.  It could even simply have been the energy from the Joe Louis Arena crowd.

Whatever it was, it worked.

The power play and penalty kill are back on track for the Detroit Red Wings.

Led by second-period goals from Niklas Kronwall, Brian Rafalski, and Henrik Zetterberg, the Wings’ power play seized control of Game 5.  And the penalty kill kept the Penguins’ scorers frustrated, and off the scoresheet.   

Pittsburgh defenseman Rob Scuderi summed it up after the game, when he said he was surprised by the Wings’ offensive outburst.

“I was real surprised,” Scuderi said.  “Like I said, in the first period I thought we played good hockey.  We were down one zip, but I thought we played good hockey.  All we had to do was keep that going.  Unfortunately, too many penalties, and against this team, its only a matter of time that power play starts to turn around.

“And they certainly did one hell of a job tonight.”

After producing only one power-play goal on ten chances in the first four games, the Wings had three goals on nine chances Saturday night.  But the penalty kill was just as important, as the Wings held the Penguins off the scoreboard for a 5-0 shutout.

The special-teams play of the night might not have been any of the Wings’ goals.  When Kronwall was whistled for tripping in the opening minutes, it looked like déjà vu from Game 4.  The Penguins took the early lead last game when Evgeni Malkin scored a power-play goal just 2:39 into the game.

But the Wings didn’t allow the same in Game 5.  They killed off Kronwall’s minor, and the Joe Louis Arena crowd showed their appreciation for a previously shaky penalty-kill unit.

“Actually, that first kill was a big boost for us,” Rafalski said.  “I think it gave us a lot of confidence going forward.  We did what we had to do.   We were focused throughout.  Thought we shot the puck more.  Obviously, having Pavel back helps, too.”

Datsyuk did help, just minutes after the big penalty kill.  He set up Dan Cleary’s goal at the 13:32 mark of the first period to give the Wings the lead.  That kicked the door open for the Wings’ power play to go to work.

Valtteri Filppula’s strike in the first two minutes of the second period was an even-strength goal on the scoresheet, but it was because of the Wings’ power play that he scored.  Just moments after Chris Kunitz exited the box from the Penguins’ first penalty of the night, the Penguins attempted a full line-change.  Goaltender Chris Osgood caught them in the midst of it, firing a two-zone pass to Marian Hossa so the Wings could get in behind the Penguins’ defense.

Then the power play officially went to work.  Kronwall scored after he took a pass below the goal line, and walked out in front of the Penguins’ goal.  Rafalski scored on a blast from the point with Tomas Holmstrom filling goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury’s sightlines.  And Zetterberg added the insurance goal, taking a pass from Kronwall in the slot, and firing the puck top-shelf.

The Wings ended up chasing Fleury in the second period, as coach Dan Bylsma sent in Mathieu Garon in replace of his starter.  Zetterberg said the Wings accomplished the feat by shooting whenever possible.

“I think we just wanted to keep shooting at him,” the Wings’ assistant captain said.  “Keep being in front.  He's a good goalie.  If you see the shot, he's most of the time going to make the save.  You just have to be there for the second pucks and I think we did a better job today than we did in Pittsburgh.”

But some of the Wings pointed to Datsyuk as a main contributor to the power-play turnaround.  Filppula said he improves the depth of the power-play units.

"I think a lot of it was Datsyuk came back,” Filppula said.  “That helps a whole lot, especially on the power play.  But both two lines were really going today, probably because we didn't do so well last game, so we wanted to do better today and glad it worked."

Fourteen of the Wings’ 29 shots came on the power play Saturday night.  Scuderi said that was the difference for the Wings’ man-advantage success.

“I thought they got more pucks to the net,” Scuderi said.  “Recently they had been trying to control it more.  As long as they stayed along the boards and in the non-danger areas it wasn’t really a problem, but tonight they got a lot of pucks to the net.  They did a couple of tip plays in front … they had it all working.”
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