PITTSBURGH – It’s a little like asking a guy whom he prefers between Jessica Alba and Megan Fox, or for the older set Betty or Veronica.
Determining whether Evgeni Malkin or Sidney Crosby had more of an impact on the Pittsburgh Penguins clawing their way back into the Stanley Cup final in their 4-2 win in Game 4 would be almost impossible. The fact is, both players were the brilliant superstars they have become and, bonded together, have become an enormous roadblock and migraine headache for the Detroit Red Wings.
Malkin was ridiculous, as usual. But Crosby not only seems to have escaped the clutches of Henrik Zetterberg, he may finally be wearing Zetterberg down. Checking the likes of Crosby is not easy work and trying to do it for an entire series is probably too much to ask, even from a two-way player as talented as Zetterberg.
All of which makes the impending return of Pavel Datsyuk all the more important for the Red Wings. A source close to the team said there was no doubt in his mind that Datsyuk would be back in the lineup no later than Game 5 and if Zetterberg is going to continue to be effective, he’s going to need some help from Datsyuk.
Crosby scored his 15th goal of the playoffs, which leaves him just four shy of the NHL record for goals in a post-season. After spending the first three games of the series looking to distribute the puck, Crosby was much more net directed and was rewarded for it.
“Zetterberg looks a little tired to me chasing Crosby around,” observed Penguins defenseman Brooks Orpik.
“You know, it’s a challenge chasing Sidney Crosby around the ice,” said Penguins coach Dan Bylsma. “He’s a talented player for sure and we’re aware of him when he’s on the ice as well and when he’s on the power play. But it’s a challenge doing both of those tasks and that’s one we’re going to keep trying to make him do.”
And while the Penguins superstars appear to be rounding into their usual form, the Red Wings seem to be losing their identity at a very inopportune time. You might want to PVR Game 4 and hang onto it, because it’s not often you’re going to see the Red Wings play that ham-handed a game with the puck and have that many defensive lapses.
Imagine that, the Detroit Red Wings becoming unglued. How the Red Wings could be tagged with just six giveaways and the Penguins eight is a mystery that boggles the mind. But here’s how much sense that statistic makes: The Penguins were charged with eight giveaways, but the Red Wings were credited with only two takeaways.
“Tension at the wrong time, stepping up at the wrong time,” Red Wings defenseman Nicklas Lidstrom said. “And they’re coming. They’re trying to score goals. We just had some bad timing on some of those goals.”
Case in point was the shorthanded goal by Jordan Staal that turned the game and finally took Staal off the back of the milk carton in this series. After a breakdown on the Wings power play, Staal battled Brian Rafalski 1-on-1 after crossing the blueline. Rafalski had body position, but let Staal go and he put the puck under Chris Osgood.
The Red Wings play their best when they have their opponents back on their heels by controlling the puck the way they do. It seemed every time they tried to do that, Malkin stripped the puck away from someone and took it up ice. After a 19-shot first period in which Penguins goalie Marc-Andre Fleury was brilliant, the Red Wings were never able to mount any sustained pressure and had no more than a couple of quality scoring chances in the third period.
So now we have ourselves a series, perhaps the one we all envisioned when this final started. And if the hockey stays as entertaining and compelling as it has been the past two games, the final three (or two) should be something to behold.
Who knows? Perhaps we still have the makings of a classic on our hands.
GAME 4 THN THREE STARS
1. Evgeni Malkin
1A. Sidney Crosby
3. Marc-Andre Fleury
GAME 4 DEFINING MOMENT: A shorthanded goal by Jordan Staal at 8:35 of the second period tied the game and started a three-goal rally in the space of 5:47.
NOTABLE NUMBER: 3 The number of non-power play, non-empty net goals the Penguins scored in the game, which was one more than their total from the previous three games combined.
From the road in Pittsburgh, host Ken Campbell and Brampton Battalion coach-GM Stan Butler discuss… The uncharacteristic turnovers by Detroit… Whether or not Crosby is wearing down Zetterberg… Battling back from a two-game deficit… And what to expect from Detroit in Game 5.
PRODUCER: Ted Cooper
THN is on the road following the Stanley Cup final and will file daily reports until a champion is crowned. To read other entries, click HERE. Also, check out THN.com’s regular video roundtable, the THN.com Shootout for updates from both Detroit and Pittsburgh.
Ken Campbell, author of the book Habs Heroes, is a senior writer for The Hockey News and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog appears Wednesday and Fridays and his column, Campbell’s Cuts, appears Mondays.
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