DETROIT – The Pittsburgh Penguins weren’t about to blame this one on a hotel or a bit of bad luck.
Instead, they were left pointing the finger directly at themselves after a second-period meltdown in Game 5 of the Stanley Cup final left them one loss away from going home empty-handed again. Pittsburgh took five straight penalties in the middle period of Saturday’s 5-0 loss to the Detroit Red Wings.
“You’re going to have emotions in a situation where you’re not getting a result,” said Penguins coach Dan Bylsma. “The other team fills the net on you. I think our guys were frustrated and then trying to play physical and started to get off the page by trying to run around and be physical. It’s a show of emotion. …
“But emotions come to the surface in hockey, and they force us into a situation where we were frustrated and they had a big lead with the crowd going at home.”
The superstitious Penguins have stayed in three different Detroit area hotels during the past two Stanley Cup finals, but they haven’t quite figured out how to win at Joe Louis Arena.
They’ve now lost all three games here in this series. However, the Penguins dismiss any notion that the building is a place where they can’t perform.
“We won in Game 5 last year in overtime and we won a regular-season game here,” said captain Sidney Crosby. “I think we’re pretty confident that we can do a job here. We didn’t do it tonight.”
The turning point came in the second period, when some of the Penguins better players paraded to the penalty box – Sergei Gonchar, Evgeni Malkin, Chris Kunitz, Crosby and Max Talbot.
Detroit managed to score on three of those power plays and chased Pittsburgh starter Marc-Andre Fleury before the game was even 40 minutes old. The most discussed of those infractions was the one to Talbot that came when he slashed Pavel Datsyuk’s skate on a night when the Hart Trophy finalist was returning from a foot injury.
Crosby wasn’t prepared to read anything into the play.
“It’s the playoffs and there’s lots of stuff going on out there,” he said. “I’m sure it’s not the only slash. It’s the playoffs.”
Even though Datsyuk isn’t fully healthy, he seemed to provide a spark to a Detroit team that played its best game of this series.
After getting some good chances early on, the Penguins offence virtually disappeared. Malkin was held pointless for the first time in the series while Crosby failed to get on the scoresheet for the third time.
None of the Penguins previous opponents in this playoffs had as much success at containing the dynamic duo. That might help explain some of the frustration that was evident in the final two periods of Game 5.
“They’re a good team, they close down lanes and they shut down a lot of our talent,” said Penguins defenceman Rob Scuderi. “You can’t get frustrated and let it take you off your game because that’s exactly what they want. They’re a very patient team, they don’t take many chances and they wait for you to do something stupid and then they capitalize.
“If we want to win Game 6, we have to keep our heads about us.”
Even though they didn’t do that on Saturday night, Crosby believes that they will next time.
The Penguins are looking forward to the two-day break that comes before they play a must-win Game 6 at Mellon Arena on Tuesday. By then, this loss will be long forgotten.
“When you don’t play well at all, you have nothing to do but improve,” said Crosby. “And we have to. The situation’s pretty clear for us – we’ve got to go home and be desperate now.
“We’ve been here before (last year) so it’s nothing new. We’ve got to respond the right way.”