PITTSBURGH - Was this the night the Pittsburgh Penguins became the Detroit Red Wings?
Coming off an acutely disappointing Game 5 blowout loss in which they not only dropped the game, but their cool, the Penguins were faced with a choice: fight or flight.
The walking birds opted to stay grounded.
Game 6 began eerily similarly to its predecessor. Pittsburgh erupted from the opening faceoff, taking the play to the defending champions. Then they drew a penalty.
Cast your mind back to Game 5. That was the turning point – a Pens PP in which they lost their urgency and generated zilch. Detroit followed up with a goal and it was game over.
The same pattern unfolded in Game 6. Only Pittsburgh, perhaps buoyed by a charged home crowd and maybe some hometown officiating, remained focused and determined.
They continued to do the little things right, like blocking shots, finishing checks, winning faceoffs, remaining poised. They outworked Detroit, outshot them big-time and out-chanced them. They exhibited championship-caliber leadership. In short, they were the Detroit Red Wings.
“I thought they were better than us at the start of the game,” said Red Wings coach Mike Babcock. “They won more races, more battles, had more play, were on top of us more and they kept us to the outside.”
Still, there was a sense they had to absolutely score the first goal, or a psyche that may be fragile, could shatter.
Jordan Staal made it happen early in the second. A period later, Tyler Kennedy willed his team to a 2-0 lead. The players beyond the brightest glare of the spotlight were making it happen, providing the kind of secondary support a certain team from Michigan is used to.
“I think that’s the storyline of the playoffs,” said Pittsburgh coach Dan Bylsma. “When your team can play well enough that different people can put on the cape any given night.
“When your team plays well enough, long enough, and you put yourself in those positions, different guys are going to be the heroes.”
A frantic and dramatic third period was punctuated by two furious Detroit power plays and masterpiece theatre by Marc-Andre Fleury. The show-stopper was Fleury’s save on a Dan Cleary breakaway with fewer than two minutes to play that had 17,000-plus holding their breath collectively.
The Pens bench, according to maturing leader Sidney Crosby, wasn’t quite as worried.
“You don’t like seeing their team have a breakaway like that,” Crosby said. “But, I think like a lot of guys, we expected ‘Flower’ to stop it the way he had been playing. I had all the confidence in the world he was going to make that stop.”
Similar to the faith Detroit has in their super-stopper, Chris Osgood.
It leaves one question for Game 7: who will be the Detroit Red Wings?
• The obstruction crackdown has taken a serious vacation in these finals. Game 6 may have had more non-calls on hold-ups and picks than any game post-lockout. Hopefully this is an aberration and not a trend.
• MVP chatter. If Detroit wins, I like Osgood by a skate lace over Henrik Zetterberg. Osgood made some other-worldly saves in Game 6 and was superb technically. If Pittsburgh prevails, it’s Malkin, hands-down. While he didn’t register a point in Game 6, Malkin was a force physically, defensively and he created numerous chances.
• Game 6, by the way, marks the first time in the 2009 playoffs Malkin and Crosby were held pointless in a Pens victory.
• Petr Sykora’s return to the lineup after missing much of the post-season as a healthy scratch was middling. He made some good plays defensively, including a key shot block, and added a veteran presence, but didn’t provide much of an offensive spark.
• Mellon Arena was as loud as any building I’ve ever been in. At least it was at the top of the arena in the auxiliary press box. Hopefully, the new arena across the street can match Mellon in terms of intimacy and exceed it in terms of bathroom facilities.
THN Shootout: Pens force Game 7
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.
Jason Kay is the editor in chief of The Hockey News and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog appears every Friday.
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