PITTSBURGH – The battle in this Stanley Cup final between youth and experience appears to be swaying toward youth in a big way, but experience has a funny way of making miraculous recoveries.
And the Pittsburgh Penguins know it, particularly when a whole lot more poise and experience is on the way in the form of Pavel Datsyuk, who will be back for Game 5 after missing seven games with a foot injury.
“He’ll play,” Detroit Red Wings coach Mike Babcock said of Datsyuk’s availability for Game 5.
After losing the first two games of the final in Detroit, the Penguins began to take advantage of a more banged-up Red Wings team and by the time they were putting the finishing touches on a 4-2 win in Game 4, they looked like they were running the Red Wings ragged.
And they probably should have been. After all, Henrik Zetterberg is seven years older than Sidney Crosby and if you combine the ages of Crosby and Malkin on their next birthdays you get 45, which is just six years older than Nicklas Lidstrom. Chris Osgood was born 12 years and two days before Marc-Andre Fleury, so it stands to reason that Fleury is better equipped to withstand a barrage of shots, the way he did in the first period of Game 4 when he stopped 18 of 19 Red Wing shots.
“I thought after they got up 4-2 (in Game 4), we had a push, but we didn’t have energy,” Babcock said. “Now is that because we’re worn right out or is that because, like it happens all the time, when one team scores a few goals and bang, bang, bang, the other team doesn’t have as much energy and one team gets more excited? We’re going to find all this out (Saturday in Game 5).”
And while it has been great for the NHL to continue with the momentum it has built through an entertaining playoff, the compressed schedule for the final might have begun to become a factor in the series. As the Red Wings wait for the cavalry in the form of Datsyuk, the Penguins are looking remarkably fresh after playing four games in six nights.
“I think we feel pretty good, Crosby said. “The typical bumps and bruises of the playoffs, but nothing major and I think most of the guys will tell you they feel pretty fresh for this time of the year and that’s a good sign. We’re trying (to wear the Red Wings down). The more pressure we can put…I think we’re trying to do that.”
Whether the Penguins young legs and lungs can overcome Detroit’s veteran poise and ability to keep from getting rattled will almost certainly become the underlying factor in determining the winner of this series. And it only stands to reason that the Penguins absolutely must have tangible contributions from their young players if they hope to win. It simply can’t be any other way because, with a few notable exceptions, the veteran presence simply isn’t there for the Penguins.
“We’re extremely young, so chances are a couple of young guys are going to have a good game,” said 38-year-old Bill Guerin, the oldest player on the Penguins. “That’s just the way we’re built. We’ve had a couple of guys step up for us the last couple of games and get goals and do some big things for us. On this team there’s no way around it, the younger players are definitely looked upon to step up and they have.”
The Penguins have to feel pretty good about getting the Red Wings frustrated in Game 4, but they know the Wings are a team that has been there, done that so many times at so many levels that there’s a very good chance they’ll compose themselves in time for Game 5.
“We’re no closer to the end than they are,” said Penguins coach Dan Bylsma. “We have two more wins to get and we have a tall task going into a tough building against a very good team who is playing well.”
Much has been made of how the Penguins have matured and responded to being down 2-0 in the final, only to storm back to seize momentum in the series. The term ‘statement game’ was thrown around quite a bit after Game 4, but Guerin said it’s probably a lot less complex than all of that.
“I don’t think anyone is coming to the rink saying, ‘I’m going to make a statement tonight,’ ” Guerin said. “We’re just playing to win, that’s it.”
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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