PITTSBURGH - It was one minute and 27 seconds of absolutely glorious penalty killing.
One minute and 27 seconds that will not be forgotten for a long, long time by Detroit Red Wings fans (and probably Pittsburgh Penguins fans, too, for all the wrong reasons).
When Detroit defenseman Andreas Lilja followed winger Kirk Maltby into the penalty box at 10:10 of the third period, he put the Penguins up two men for 1:27. Trailing by a goal, as well as a game in the series, it was a golden opportunity for the Penguins to pull even and, hey, maybe even pull ahead in the game.
But Detroit – specifically Henrik Zetterberg – would have no part of it. Zetterberg blocked a shot, went hard to the net to knock Sidney Crosby off the puck and ragged the puck for a while to kill time. It was a brilliant display that just may have shot him into the lead for the Conn Smythe Trophy, although teammates Pavel Datsyuk and Chris Osgood may yet have something to say about that.
“Zetterberg was fantastic; so was Datsyuk, (Niklas) Kronwall and (Nicklas) Lidstrom,” said Detroit coach Mike Babcock. “In those situations, the pressure of the playoffs helps the penalty kill. It always helps the penalty kill. If this was November it would be tic-tac-toe and it’s in the back of your net. But the pressure makes it harder for them to execute. And obviously we had really good players out there.”
While Pittsburgh never puts its best player, Sidney Crosby, out to kill penalties, Babcock doesn’t hesitate to put his top offensive stars on the ice as penalty-killers.
“The offensive guys on our team have such great instincts,” Babcock said. “They can cut plays off and knock down passes.”
What Detroit does when it is down two men is not the traditional triangle with one man high and two men low. The Red Wings do the opposite. They put two men high and one man low and the two high players are always on the attack, pressuring the attacking team.
Pittsburgh even burned its timeout during a stoppage in play, trying to piece together a plan to get the score to 2-2. To no avail, though.
“It’s tough to explain,” said Penguins coach Michel Therrien. “There’s no doubt we needed a goal, but we didn’t execute well. We had a good chance to tie up the score, but we didn’t get the job done.”
And with that, the Penguins can pretty much kiss goodbye their chances of winning the Cup this season. Detroit has played 10 home games in the playoffs and only allowed 12 goals. With Pittsburgh’s sharp shooters firing blanks, it would take a miracle for the Pens to force a Game 6 at home.
• Detroit coach Mike Babcock wasn’t impressed when his team was put down two men in the third period.
“The first thing I thought was, ‘I can’t believe this actually just happened,’ ” Babcock said.
When pressed if he meant he couldn’t believe Pittsburgh coach Michel Therrien complained loud during the two off days about Detroit’s obstruction and it earned him a two-man advantage, Babcock refused to comment, although he did say, “You can read into it whatever you want, I’m not going there.”
• Asked at what point in the day he knew winger Tomas Holmstrom would not be playing Game 4, Babcock said, “When he didn’t come to the game tonight.”
It drew quite a laugh from the media.
“I said to the trainers ‘Where’s Tommy?’ and they said, ‘He’s not coming.’ That’s when I knew he was stiffer and sorer.”
Fact is, Holmstrom did come to the game, just not in time to take part in warmup.
• They call him Scary Gary and in terms of popularity, Gary Roberts likely ranks No. 2 behind only Sidney Crosby at this stage of the season. After being a healthy scratch for Game 1 of the final, Roberts was inserted into the lineup to bring some added energy. He has played very well and when the 42-year-old left winger gets running around, he causes the Red Wings to be aware of his every move because he’s taking no prisoners.
• The streak is over.
Denny Nath, who drives the Zamboni at the Mellon Arena, was supposed to work the day shift Saturday, but was told to report for the game after the Penguins beat Detroit 3-2 in Game 3. You see, the Penguins are virtually unbeatable on the nights when Nath cleans the ice for their games.
“They haven’t lost all year on the nights I drive,” said the 41-year-old Nath. “Well, they did lose one in a shootout, but I don’t count that one.”
Nath said he wasn’t surprised that his shift was changed.
“I was pretty much told if the Penguins win on Wednesday, I’d be driving Saturday night,” Nath said.
He drove; the Penguins lost. Oh well.
THE HOCKEY NEWS GAME 4 THREE STARS
1. Henrik Zetterberg, Detroit
2. Pavel Datsyuk, Detroit
3. Marian Hossa, Pittsburgh
THN senior writer Mike Brophy is on the road following the Stanley Cup final and will be filing daily reports until a champion is crowned. To read his other entries, click HERE.
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