PITTSBURGH – The Detroit Red Wings are one win away from the Stanley Cup.
Fourth-liner Jiri Hudler got the game-winning goal 2:26 into the third period and Red Wings veterans Nicklas Lidstrom and Henrik Zetterberg shone in a 2-1 victory on Saturday night that pushed the gifted young Pittsburgh Penguins to the brink of elimination.
After breaking Pittsburgh’s 17-game home winning streak, the Wings hold a 3-1 lead in the best-of-seven series and can claim an 11th Cup with a victory in Game 5 on Monday on home ice in Detroit.
Of the 29 teams in history to hold a 3-1 lead in a Stanley Cup final, 28 have gone on to win the Cup, with the one exception the 1942 Toronto Maple Leafs’ comeback win over Detroit.
“We know as a team that we haven’t won anything yet,” said Lidstrom, who is in line to become the first European captain of an NHL championship team. “But sure, you’re excited to be in a position like this.
“This is where you want to be, to have a chance to win the Stanley Cup.”
Marian Hossa scored early on a power play for Pittsburgh, but Lidstrom tied the score just after a man advantage ended less than four minutes later in the first period.
Early in the third frame, Brad Stuart kept a puck in at the Pittsburgh blue-line and Hudler was left alone at the side of the net after Darren Helm became entangled with defenceman Brooks Orpik. Hudler’s backhand shot found an opening through goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury, who finished with 28 saves.
“It’s not a shot I couldn’t stop,” Fleury admitted.
Pittsburgh coach Michel Therrien was in a gloomy mood after his team was outplayed on home ice by the older, wiser Red Wings, and sharp goaltender Chris Osgood, who made 22 saves to shut down the Penguins vaunted attack.
“It’s a cliche, but we have to take it one game and time and we’ll see,” Therrien said of his club’s predicament.
It wasn’t like they didn’t have chances, as Kirk Maltby and Andreas Lilja were sent off midway through the third period, giving Pittsburgh a two-man advantage for 1:27.
But Lidstrom and Niklas Kronwall were solid on defence, and Zetterberg kept pressure on the Penguins shooters and even managed t get a shot on goal himself on a counter-attack.
“There’s no doubt we needed to get that goal,” Therrien added. “We didn’t execute well. We had a chance to tie the game and we didn’t do the job.”
Detroit coach Mike Babcock said having a bench full of veterans to call on helped his side maintain calm under the intense pressure, while over-anxiousness may have hurt young Penguins stars like Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin.
“I thought Zetterberg was fantastic,” said Babcock. “So was (Pavel) Datsyuk on that 5-on-3, and Kronwall and Lidstrom.
“In those situations the pressure of the playoffs and the situation helps the penalty-kill. If that’s November, it’s tic-tac-toe and it’s in your net so fast. But the pressure makes it harder for them to execute.”
Malkin had perhaps the best chance during the two-man advantage, but missed the net from about 12 feet. Malkin and linemate Peter Sykora have yet to produce a point in the series.
The loss was the first in 10 home games in the playoffs for the Penguins and ended Pittsburgh’s 17-game overall winning streak at the Mellon Centre that started in the regular season. It was Fleury’s first defeat at home in 20 games dating to Nov. 21, just before he missed two months with an ankle injury.
Fleury was pulled for an extra attacker in the final minute, but Detroit held on.
“We have to win one to get back, so that’s the way we’re thinking,” said Crosby. “I don’t think they’re running away with it, so we’ll battle them in Detroit and see what happens.”
The Red Wings were without their favourite net-crowder Tomas Holmstrom, who sat out with a hamstring injury, but Daniel Cleary had a strong game in his spot on the top line with Zetterberg and Datsyuk.
Babcock joked that he only knew Holmstrom wouldn’t play when a trainer said “he’s not coming (until too late for the warm-up). Obviously he was stiffer and sorer than we thought.”
The sellout crowd of 17,132 observed a moment of silence before the game for Vancouver Canucks prospect Luc Bourdon, who died in a motorcycle accident Thursday in New Brunswick.
But the Go Pens Go chant quickly resumed as the crowd anticipated a repeat of Pittsburgh’s 3-2 victory in an end-to-end thriller in Game 3 on Wednesday night.
It became deafening as Detroit’s Dallas Drake was sent off at 3:11 and, only 40 seconds later, Hossa grabbed the rebound of Sergei Gonchar’s shot and slipped it inside the post behind Chris Osgood for his 10th of the playoffs, but first of the series.
The Red Wings answered quickly. Just two seconds after a cross-checking call on Pascal Dupuis expired, Lidstrom’s point shot went off a defenceman and past Fleury at 7:06.
Both goalies shone in the scoreless second, with Osgood making consecutive stops on Crosby and Dupuis on a dangerous rush 15 minutes into the period.
“I thought (Osgood) made some key saves, and he got the rebounds, too,” said Lidstrom. “On the 5-on-3, I thought he made two-to-three huge saves for us. It’s tough when you’re down a couple of players, but he did a tremendous job for us, and really carried the game for us.”
Babcock also made an allusion to Therrien’s calls this week on referees to crack down on alleged obstruction by Detroit when he said of the 5-on-3 “The first thing I thought was, ‘I can’t believe that just happened.
When asked to expand on that, he said “read into it whatever you want.”
The Red Wings have eight players left from their last Stanley Cup triumph in 2002 – Lidstrom, Holmstrom, Datsyuk, Maltby, Kris Draper, Chris Chelios, Dominik Hasek and Darren McCarty.
Notes: With Holmstrom out, McCarty returned to the Detroit lineup after sitting out two games. … Pens defenceman Kris Letang, one of Bourdon’s best friends, sat out a second straight game in favour of veteran Darryl Sydor. … The Penguins played their 100th game this season.