After a great season, Penguins facing a difficult makeover in the offseason

In the aftermath that was Detroit winning their 11th Stanley Cup and Pittsburgh using their finals defeat as a building block for what appears to be a promising future, chances are that if and when these two teams cross paths somewhere down the road (like, say, maybe in next year’s cup finals?), the Penguins may look drastically different the next time around.

Enter the man who will be under the most pressure this offseason, Penguins GM Ray Shero.  Shero will have a daunting task of trying to figure out which pieces of the puzzle fit and which ones don’t.  With the salary cap, the Penguins’ roster is almost assured to change, with 12 unrestricted free agents set to hit the open waters July 1.  The names in clude Marian Hossa, Ryan Malone, Brooks Orpik, Mark Eaton, Gary Roberts, Jarkko Ruutu, Georges Laraque, Pascal Dupuis, and Adam Hall.

At the top of Shero’s to-do list will surely be trade deadline acquisition Marian Hossa.  Hossa netted a team-high 12 goals for the Pens in the playoffs, and he’ll be the biggest fish in the free agent pond next month.  And the most expensive.  So the dance begins.  If Shero keeps Hossa in the fold, that means he probably won’t be able to give top dollars to Fleury, Staal and Malkin.  At least not the big bucks they’d receive in free agency.  The best case scenario for the Penguins is that Hossa turns down more money from other teams to take less and say with the Pens, which he stated he’s willing to do. 

But when push comes to shove, can Hossa shy away from the money?  There won’t be a shortage of teams that will have the hots for Hossa in a few weeks.  The Canadiens and Bruins will have the money to throw at Hossa.  The Rangers are always interested in marquee names, and the Sabres and Wild are rumored to want him as well. 

So will potentially $6 or $7 million a year be too good for Hossa to pass up?  In a place like Montreal or Boston, he’ll be the man, a guy that those rich, Original 6 fanbases will be looking upon as the franchise guy, something that Hossa might not be.  For me, the biggest thing Hossa and his agent Rich Winter must weight, is just how much greener is the grass away from Pittsburgh? 

Right now he’s playing with one of the best players in the world, in Sidney Crosby.  Crosby’s playmaking abilities, and his ability to take the spotlight off of Hossa make life pretty sweet for Hossa, especially in the playoffs. Do you really want to walk away from the best player in the game and go somewhere else?  That would be like having prime rib put in front of you, and brushing it aside to eat sloppy joes.  

If Hossa decides winning and having a chance annually to play for the Stanley Cup is more important than the money, Hossa’s list will be a short one.  And one that doesn’t include Boston, Montreal, Buffalo or Minnesota, who are a few paces or more behind the Pens as far as getting to the finals or winning a cup is concerned. 

Brooks Orpik and Ryan Malone will be two other hot commodities that may be out of the Pittsburgh’s monetary reach, especially if Hossa sticks around.  Orpik’s defensive star is on the rise and his four-hit shift in a span of 30 seconds in Game 3 still has people around the local watering holes talking.  Ryan Malone is blossoming into a solid power forward, netting 27 goals this past season, six coming in the playoffs.  Both players could receives offers up towards the 4.5 or 5 million a year mark on the open market, which might be out of the Pens’ price range if one or both decide against taking the hometown discount.

42-year-old Gary Roberts will be entertaining the thought of retirement, and if he were to leave, along with fellow bruisers Georges Laraque and Jarkko Ruutu, suddenly the Penguins wouldn’t be nearly as physical and tough to play against as they were a year ago.

To further compound Shero’s hellish summer is the big-three: Marc-Andre Fleury, Evgeni Malkin and Jordan Staal.  Fleury will be a restricted free agent this summer, and he’ll be due for a hefty raise from the $1.6 million he earned in 07-08.  And with the goaltending pool fairly shallow this summer (Cristobal Huet, Jose Theodore, Dan Ellis), the Penguins’ hand may be forced, if Fleury were to receive a lucrative contract offer from another team that would force Pittsburgh to match the outside offer.

Malkin, an MVP candidate this year, and Staal both have one year remaining on their contracts, with both set to become unrestricted free agents this time next year.  Something Shero hopes to avoid.  Along with Fleury, Malkin’s new deal will test just how deep Shero’s pockets are.  To keep what looks to be a franchise netminder and legit superstar in tact, hopefully Shero’s pen enjoys writing zeroes.  Although only 19 years young, the Pens also have no intention of letting Staal, the second pick in the 2006 draft, wear a different sweater.

And then there’s Pens coach Michel Therrien, who has only one year left on his contract.  Rumors of do the players like him or hate him?  Is he the right guy to have captaining the ship?  Fair questions sure, but if Therrien doesn’t succeed, it won’t be because he had a shortage of talent.  Maybe they were a little bit ahead of schedule this year, but now the bar has been raised in the Steel City.  They breezed through the Eastern Conference and made it to the Finals.  Many experts correctly predicted that the Penguins needed to learn in order to learn how to win.  The time for the Penguins and Therrien to get it done isn’t two or three years down the line, it’s right now.  And like now, as in 2008-09.

Runner up to the Stanley Cup is never a consolation prize whether it’s your first or fourth trip to the finals, but considering for a moment where the Penguins used to be and what they did this year to go to the finals is nothing short of remarkable.

Just two years ago, the Pens were the worst team in the league.  Actually, at the end of the 2006 season, they completed a stretch of being the worst team in the NHL for four seasons running.  They almost moved to Kansas City and left Pittsburgh behind.  From 2002-2006, the Pens lost 178 games and finished in last place in the Atlantic Division in all four years.  But with those dreadful years came hope and promise in the form of Sidney Crosby, Fleury, Malkin and Staal.

This past year was great.  The Pens went 47-27-8, claiming their first Atlantic Division title since 1997 and first Eastern Conference crown since 1992. The Penguins won 12 of their first 14 playoff games.  They rose up and overcame adversity.  There were without Fleury for three months due to ankle injury and Crosby was lost for two months with a high ankle sprain.  Enter back up goalie Ty Conklin, who went 18-8-5 and some guy named Dany Sabourin, who won 10 games.  Without Crosby, Malkin became an MVP candidate and stud, scoring 20 goals and dishing out 26 assists in the 28 games Crosby was sidelined.  Despite the injuries and the slow start (8-11-2), the Penguins finished two wins and six periods shy of a cup.

With the salary cap comes changes, and even with the Penguins set to move into a new arena and leave the 47-year-old Mellon Arena behind, the Penguins’ management won’t have enough cash to go around for all their free agents, making impossible to retain them all.  There will be choices to be made, tough choices.  It’s going to be difficult to make it all work.  But that’s the down side of having a salary cap.  What you look like this year compared to the next is often night and day.  Keeping core guys under one roof is tougher now more than ever.

With training camp a few months off the horizon, no matter what the Penguins look like this fall, their goal will remain the same.

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Wings are champs…damn, it still feels good!

It’s been almost a week since the Red Wings captured their 11th Stanley Cup, and while it’s completely sunk in that the boys in red and white with the winged wheel on the front of their sweaters claimed hockey’s holy grail, the emotions remain the same today as they were when the final horn sounded and time run out on the Penguins.

As I had previously wrote about savoring every moment of this because you don’t know what’s around the corner, I find myself still waking up each moring with a big, goofy grin on my face.  I find myself recounting the moments, the goals and wins from this recent title run.  There was Johan Franzen’s coming out party that began in March, a stretch at one point where ‘Mule’ scored 26 goals in 26 games.  There was his Game 5 and possible series saving overtime break away winner against Nashville in the first round that allowed the Wings to oust the Predators two days later.  There was Franzen’s systematic dismantling of the Colorado Avalanche almost single-handedly, in which his nine-goal series total (2 hat tricks) matched the Avs’ output as a team. 

Something that may be a bit overshadowed, but not forgotten, was Darren McCarty’s revival.  Out of hockey and out of luck, McCarty was given a chance by the Wings in the beginning of March and Mac made the most of it.  He made the team, more surprisingly he claimed a spot on the playoff roster.  And in just his second playoff game against Nashville, McCarty got the scoring started for the Wings and signaled that maybe, just maybe, there’s somebody upstairs looking over McCarty.  A truly emotional sight for a Wings fan to see, considering the personal demons he’s gone through the last few years, and to now not only make the team, but contribute. 

We won’t soon forget Conn Smythe winner Henrik Zetterberg’s playoff performance, simply a thing of beauty.  His 27 points in the playoffs set an all-time postseason record by a Detroit Red Wing.  Just think about some of the names for a second.  Gordie Howe.  Ted Lindsay. Alex Delvecchio. Steve Yzerman.  Brendan Shanahan.  Sergei Fedorov.  All the aforementioned Detroit greats take a backseat to Zetterberg’s postseason performance.  And how about that spin-o-rama type goal in Game 4’s 8-2 whooping of the Avs?  But even better than that was his defensive prowess in the finals against the Penguins, limiting Sidney Crosby’s time, space and comfort.  Not to mention maybe the Conn Smythe clinching shift in Game 4 with the Wings needing to kill a 5-on-3 for almost 90 seconds.  Who was out there leading the way, blocking shots and making a last second tie-up disallowing Crosby to get off a slam dunk shot on the doorstep?  Zetterberg. 

Imagine doing something for 16 years, sacrificing your body and family just to have a hope of one day hoisting the cup.  That’s was the case for Dallas Drake until last Wedneday night, who took the cup just after  Nicklas Lidstrom took the customary first skate with it as captain.  There was Drake, 16 years in the making his journey completed with the team it all started with.  And Lidstrom?  Well all he did was make hockey history…again.  In 2002, he became the first ever European to win the Conn Smythe trophy and now six years later, becomes the first ever European captain to raise the Stanley Cup. 

And for Chris Osgood, his story is one that writers in Hollywood couldn’t come up with.  He won, he lost.  He left, he returned.  He sat, kept quiet and then got his chance, took it and ran with it all the way to another title.  It was a feat 10 years ago Osgood accomplished when he guided the Wings to their second consecutive cup in a sweep of the Washington Capitals.  For some reason, he was labled one of the worst goalies to win a Stanley Cup, that somehow the Wings won in spite of having Osgood between the pipes.  He never wanted to leave, always envisioning someday he’d be back.  But where Hasek failed this time around, Osgood succeeded.  He was a calming prescence in net, never second-guessing himself, though the rest of the hockey universe might have been.  He’s never been spectacular, and when you remember all time greats between the pipes, his name probably won’t come up.  But when needed, he was good, better than good.  Always making the key save or the big save at the right time.  Always consistent and solid, never erratic.  Maybe now he’s the worst goalie to lead a team to two Stanley Cups.

I think about any playoff stretch run, you’re going to remember what you want to remember.  How Franzen couldn’t be stopped, or the tenacious Game 6 effort to put away the Stars and head to the finals.  Or Mikael Samuelsson’s emotions after scoring the first goal, and then the second goal in Game 1.  Or Max Talbot spoiling the party in Game 5, then Petr Sykora ruining it.  Or commissioner Gary Bettman telling Lidstrom to “come get the Stanley Cup to take back to Hockeytown.” 

For me, I’ll remember it all because I want to remember it all.  Sure I miss the feeling of feeling great after a win and mad at the world after a loss.  And in life we move entirely too quickly from one thing to the next.  First it was the playoffs, then the finals, then the parade, all of which are afterthoughts now that we’re about three weeks away from free agency, and who’s staying or who’s going.  But me, I’m savoring everyday.  I’m taking it all in. 

It doesn’t matter to me whether it’s a day, a week or month later, nothing can take away the awesome feeling of being able to say the Wings are Stanley Cup champs….again.

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Red Wings reign supreme! Detroit captures 11th Stanley Cup with Game 6 win over Penguins

Finally, it feels great to breathe again. 

After nearly three months of playoff hockey, the Detroit Red Wings reclaim their throne as the NHL’s Stanley Cup champion.  At last, the Red Wings have hurdled their absolute last obstacle.  They’ve silenced their very last critics.  There are no more questions left to be answered.  Indeed, the cheese stands alone.  It’s time to paint the town red and white all over.  The Stanley Cup returns to a familiar, welcoming place.  After all, they don’t call Detroit Hockeytown for nothing.

The Red Wings finally stepped up and claimed what they had been aiming for all season long, wrestling it away from the pesky Penguins as Chris Osgood turned aside the Pens’ last ditch shot as the horn sounded.  These last two games made our hearts sink, our heads ache especially after Monday night’s 4-3 triple overtime loss.  And as Marian Hossa’s last second poke sent the puck sliding across the crease, we then truly realized that these Wings don’t make anything easy.

But as Wings coach Mike Babcock stated after Game 5, these are the finals and it’s not supposed to be easy.  It wasn’t easy for the Wings to venture onto foreign soil and leave with their 11th Stanley Cup, but just as they’ve done all playoffs long, Detroit calmly and cooly entered a raucous arena and ended their opponent’s season on their own ice.

It happened to Nashville, mercifully it happened to Colorado, and Dallas suffered the same fate.  And with Wednesday night’s 3-2 win in Game 6 to win the cup, the Wings sent the home crowd heading for the exits with their heads hanging and their hopes dashed.  For the first time in six years, the hockey world will be colored red and white. 

The Wings won it with tremendous defense, rock steady goaltending from Chris Osgood, and the evolution of Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk.  And oh yeah, having Nicklas Lidstrom helps a lot too.  They won with poise and patience.  They won it on Zetterberg’s third period goal, a shot that snuck through Marc-Andre Fleury’s pads and just stopped on a dime right behind Fleury.  No whistle had blown, and with the puck just sitting there behind Fleury for what seemed like an eternity, Fleury fell back on the puck and knocked it into his own net. 

Everytime you’re able to win, it’s special.  But this one means a little bit more.  All this lockout and ‘leveling-the-playing field’ nonsense essentially doesn’t mean a whole helluva lot right now.  The Wings were supposed to struggle in the post-lockout world, people expected them to take a step or two or three back.  But instead on this night we saw the dawning of a new era.  A new banner raised without Steve Yzerman, Brendan Shanahan, Sergei Fedorov and Scotty Bowman.

We saw Steve Yzerman lift it three times, each just as beautiful as the rest, but when captain Nick Lidstrom took the cup from Gary Bettman, it was an unbelievable feeling.  Hard to believe that Lidstrom is the first ever European captain to lift the Stanley Cup, just as in 2002 he became the first European to win the Conn Smythe.  Lidstrom’s legacy cemented as the one of the greatest all time defenseman defined picture perfectly in that moment with the cup raised high above his head.  So calm, so poised and just so damn good he has been for this franchise, it’s almost too good to believe that hockey player can be constructed almost as perfectly as Lidstrom.

And one by one as the Wings took their turns passing the cup to one another, there was Dallas Drake, a 16 year vet back where it all started taking the handoff as the second Wings player to hoist the cup after Lidstrom.  From franchise corner stone to role guy, the Lidstrom to Drake moment defines this team: a collection of unselfish, ego-free players all working together as one to achieve one common dream.

There was Henrik Zetterberg and Chris Osgood, for had the Wings been without, this would have never been a possibility.  Zetterberg claimed the Conn Smythe as the playoff MVP and finished with a franchise record 27 points in one postseason, passing Steve Yzerman and Sergei Fedorov.  And Osgood?  Well, his story isn’t a glizty, but the ending makes you catch your breathe.  10 years ago he led Detroit to their second straight cup in 1998 and now 10 years later, he was able to do it again.  Funny how life works.  He was a cup netminder, then jettisoned after the Wings traded for Dominik Hasek in 2002, then brought back in 2005.  Now, ironically, in Game 5 in the first round against Nashville, Hasek was jettisoned for Osgood, who never relinquished the job and 14 wins later, put the hockey back in Hockeytown.

We knew former Wings coach Scotty Bowman casted a long shadow, but Mike Babcock now has cast his own shadow.  Babcock has become the epitome of calm, never panicking, never wavering.  Always poised and confident, believing in his team and the gameplan.  Nobody does a better job in hockey than Babcok in terms of preparation, in terms of knowing how to get the best out of his players.  He’s never one to show his emotions, but the gigantic grin on his face as he was holding the cup over his head, was a picture worth a thousand emotions that now Babcock can feel free to express.

The road to the promise land was tough, indeed, and not without some uh-oh moments.  The Wings found trouble along the journey.  They were tied up 2-2 against Nashville and had to yank Hasek and insert Osgood.  They coasted to a 3-0 series lead against Dallas, a series that went six games before the Wings moved on to the finals.  And then of course, there was the Game 5 triple overtime loss at home that was one of most difficult losses to get over that I can remember in a long time.

We heard the same silly statements time and time again.  They can’t win with a European domianted group.  They’re too old.  They’re too slow, not physical.  Where’s the secondary scoring come from?  Is Osgood good enough to lead them to another cup?  In the end, all you need to know is that the Wings were the NHL’s best, from regular season to cup clincher.

They faced adversity like warriors.  Everytime they fell on the mat, they responded by getting right back up.  Need further proof?  How’s the fact that they ended every series on the road in the postseason.  To me, that spells experience, heart, and determination.  Coincidentally, three key ingredients needed to win. 

And as another celebration commences in Motown, these Red Wings were truly every bit as good and better as they were made out to be.  We witnessed a remarkable run that these Wings took us on over the last three months. These moments don’t happen as often as we’d like, so you’ve gotta enjoy every minute they’re here.  We’ve gone from jubilation to despair, from exhaustion to celebration. 

Detroit dominance!  It’s time to party again.  Glory and honor have been restored in Hockeytown, past failures extinguished on this night.  Time to hang another banner and finally burst open the champagne.  Shout it from the rooftops again, the Detroit Red Wings are the Stanley Cup Champions!

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Penguins stun Red Wings with triple overtime win in Game 5

It was supposed to be a coronation, with the fans squished into Joe Louis Arean, all decked out in red.  The anticipation was by around 11ish, Wings fans would be partying like it was, oh say, 2002.  The Wings were fresh off a huge road victory in Game 4 where they dealt the Penguins their first at home in the playoffs.  They were coming back home to finish off the Penguins and pop open the champagne.  Unfortunately for Detroit, hockey, more importantly playoff hockey, sure as hell ain’t built on supposed.

The Cup, the champagne and the fourth and final series clinching win will have to wait longer.  Thanks to Max Talbot and Petr Sykora, and another fantastically dreadful start by the Wings, the Penguins were the party poopers in Game 5, coming away with a 4-3 triple overtime victory to send the scene back to Pittsburgh for Game 6 on Wednesday night.

What could have been a celebration wound up feeling more like a funeral.  Around 1 a.m., Sykora finished off the fifth-longest game in finals history, beating Wings goalie Chris Osgood short side, with the Penguins on a four-minute power play that was set up by Jiri Hudler’s high sticking call on Rob Scuderi.  As Wings coach Mike Babcock stated after the loss, you hate to see Sykora end up with the puck because he’s that kind of guy, you knew it was going in. 

It was a frantic night of emotional swings from Monday night into early Tuesday morning, but for the Wings, this one ended the way it started: badly.  Stunningly similar to Game 5 against Dallas in the WCF, the Wings were passive, they were shaky, and they couldn’t get out of their own way.  The Penguins were faster and looser, the way we all wished the Wings would’ve come out.  But instead, Marian Hossa put the Wings behind the eight ball early, and then Niklas Kronwall’s attempt at clear was fired off of Adam Hall’s skate and behind Osgood.  14:41 in, Pittsburgh sucked the life completey out of the Joe and the Wings. 

You would have thought Detroit learned their lesson the way they started against Dallas.  Like the Stars, Pittsburgh took full advantage and you know what they say: one big road win deserves another.  But in the second period, Darren Helm put a charge into the stoic Joe faithful, getting the Wings on the board by tossing a shot at the net that ended up going off a Penguins and past Fleury.  The crowd went wild.  The Wings were back on their game and back into the game.

With the crowd behind them, the Wings came roaring back and who better than to lead the calvary than Zetterberg to Datsyuk on a power play to send everyone soaring out of their seats.  And with things all squared at two, the Wings were relentless.  Now they were the ones faster, harder and refusing to be denied.  And moments later, the cup seemed inevitable, as Brian Rafalski took a pass from Johan Franzen and fired a laser to put the Wings up 3-2.  And then 10 a half minutes later, disaster struck in the form of Max Talbot.

This wasn’t the first time we’ve seen this sort of helter-skelter, Chinese fire drill scene during these playoffs in the last 80 or 90 seconds of a game.  We saw it in Game 5 of the Nashville series, with the Wings up 1-0, the Predators pulled goalie Dan Ellis and tied the game with 44 seconds left to send the game to overtime.  Chris Osgood had to stone Avs defenseman Jon-Michael Liles with about 8 seconds to go in Game 1 of the semifinals to secure victory.  But those moments that made us clench our instestines made this moment seem like a warm sunny day at the local fair.

35 seconds.  There’s not a lot you can accomplish in 35 seconds, but Max Talbot put a rebound past Osgood (with Fleury pulled, giving the Pens the extra attacker) to tie the game at 3 and sent Game 5 into overtime.  No more ‘We want the cup’ chants that the crowd had been chanting since about the five mark of the third period.  Unquestionably, it was third period that will be remembered for quite some time, but probably not fondly for the Wings.

Emotionally the Wings went from low to high back to low as the overtimes came and went.  And so did the Wings’ chances.  For 19:35 of the third period, the Penguins were reeling, oh my gosh how they were reeling.  Penguins goalie Marc-Andre Fleury turned out to be practically goalie and defenseman, and had it not been for Fleury, there’s no denying the fact that Pittsburgh wouldn’t be playing any kind of Game 6.

The Penguins goalie faced 58 shots and got 55 of them.  His team was outshot 14-4 in the third and 27-6 through the end of the first overtime.  Zetterberg, Franzen and Cleary had their chances.  Holmstrom had one point blank, all to be turned away by Fleury.  Fleury and Pens managed to weather the Wings’ storm front.  Despite Detroit overcoming early jitters and two goals, the Wings were denied the game-winner, series clincher.

Instead, their bags must be re-packed and new batch of plane tickets to Pittsburgh needed to be purchased.  These tensions and pressures have mounted before, and the Wings each time, have managed to conquer them.  They surfaced against Nashville and reappeared against Dallas.  And yes this is the grandest stage of them all, and if it was easy, then every team would be here. 

But the Wings simply can’t dwell on what happened in Game 5.  The turnaround is quick, with Game 6 looming Wednesday night.  Fluids must be consumed and memories erased.  And just as no one felt sorry for Nashville losing leader Jason Arnott or the Avs’ scary string of injuries or the Stars’ falling behind 0-3, this is the finals: there’s no time to feel sorry for yourself because nobody else is going to feel sorry for you.

Detroit has no choice other than to get up off the mat and go play again.  It’s not as though they were terribly outplayed by the Penguins.  They played well, pretty damn good even.  Good enough to win though?  Not if you don’t play a full 60 minutes.  And the Wings didn’t do that. 

The Wings have been a pretty good road team all season, and surprisingly, all three of their previous playoff series have ended on the road, with both Nashville and Dallas ending in six games.  We wondered after that Game 5 home loss how the Wings would respond in Game 6 going back to Dallas.  A quick refresher, they responded with a fantastic start in which they were rewarded with a three goal, first period effort.  The Wings went on to win the game and head to finals.

This may be the same song, just a different quarter in the juke box, but the scenario remains almost the same.  The Wings wanted it more than the Stars did and it showed.  Now, it’s a matter of looking into the mirror and seeing how bad they truly want to win the Stanley Cup. 

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Hudler’s 3rd period goal puts Wings one win from Cup

There it was, the most pressure packed situation the Red Wings have faced all playoffs, all season long.  Grasping at one-goal lead in a place where the home team hasn’t lost since late February, the Wings found themselves having to kill off a 5-on-3 for nearly 90 seconds.  And for being shorthanded as far as players go, Detroit wasn’t shorthanded on poise and confidence. 

Thanks to a gigantic penalty kill and Jiri Hudler’s go ahead goal in the third period, Detroit handed Pittsburgh their first lost on their home ice in four months, 2-1, in Game 4 to take command of the series, 3-1.  The Wings can claim their 11th Stanley Cup and fourth in 11 years in Game 5 on Monday night in front of an expected frenzied Joe Louis Arena.

Hudler snapped a 1-1 deadlock just 2:26 into the third period, thanks to a terrific keep-in by Wings defenseman Brad Stuart.  For the Wings’ fourth-line to produce the game-winner was huge, just as huge if not bigger was the 5-on-3 penalty kill.  Pittsburgh can’t say they didn’t have their chances.  Pens coach Michel Therrien has been steadily complaining about Detroit’s susposed obstruction in this series, and for his team to get a power play just halfway through the 3rd period, then for Andreas Lilja to be called for interference on Sidney Crosby, the opportunities were there.  The game was for the taking, the series was there to be tied at 2-2 going back to Detroit.

Penguins goalie Marc-Andre Fleury stopped 28 shots, but couldn’t make the most important save on Hudler’s quick backhand.  Fleury hadn’t lost in Mellon Arena since Nov. 21, and coming into Saturday night’s Game 3, the Penguins were a perfect 9-0 at home during the postseason.

Chris Osgood turned aside 22 shots, improving to 13-3 since relieving Dominik Hasek in Game 3 of the Nashville series.  Though the 22 shots may say that he wasn’t busy, Osgood made several crucial stops on the big gunners Crosby, Dupuis, and Hossa.  He had to be superb in the waning moments with the Penguins having the extra attacker after pulling Fleury. 

No doubt, the Penguins needed to score on their 5-on-3.  If there was going to be a time for them to tie the game, that was it.  But they failed to score.  They failed to execute.  But as potent a power play unit the Pens boast, (and they had all the gunners out there: Gonchar, Crosby, Malkin and Hossa), the Wings penalty kill was better.

He may not have the eye-popping stats in this series, but aside from Osgood, there hasn’t any other player better or more consistent than Henrik Zetterberg.  Zetterberg made a game saving play, getting his stick on Crosby at the last seconds, preventing Crosby from getting off a clean shot o the doorstep during the Pens’ 5-on-3.  His defensive prescence in Game 4 was arguably the best we’ve seen all, at a time when the Wings needed not only Zetterberg, but their penalty kill unit as whole, to be outstanding.

Lest we forget that the Wings were without Tomas Holmstrom, who sat out Game 4 due to a lower body injury he suffered when Penguins defenseman Hal Gill sent Holmstrom hard to ice.  But, no Holmstrom, no problem on this night for the Wings.  Their composer and poise were put to the test yet again.  And yet again, the Wings responded.

With the Igloo already celebrating over the announcement of Holmstrom’s absence, Marian Hossa’s power play goal 2:51 into the game nearly tore the roof off Mellon Arena.  Momentum clearly on the Penguins side, carrying over from their Game 3 victory and no Holmstrom, Hossa drew first blood.  And what better sign for the Pens to get their struggling power play going and scoring the first goal.  Pittsburgh was 11-0 when scoring first in these playoffs.

But it didn’t take long for the Wings to respond, and who better to lead the Wings’ response than the captain himself.  4:55 after Hossa’s goal, Nicklas Lidstrom fired a rocket a few seconds after the Penguins had successfully killed off the Wings’ first power play. 

So now the cup is in plain sight.  It’s so close the Wings can taste it, but just because they deserve to win on Monday night doesn’t mean the Penguins are going to step aside and let the Wings have it.  Pittsburgh will be a desperate bunch, facing the fact that their next loss will end their season.  For the Wings, they’ll have a chance to end this series on their home ice and claim their 11th Stanley Cup in franchise history. 

 

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Crosby scores twice to get Penguins crucial win over Wings

Home may be where the heart is, but for the Pittsburgh Penguins, it’s where the wins are.  It’s also where the NHL’s golden boy, Sidney Crosby, got the Pens right back into the thick of things in the Stanley Cup Finals.

Returning home proved to be just what the doctor ordered for Pittsburgh, as Crosby scored two power play goals and Adam Hall banked a shot in from behind the net off Wings goalie Chris Osgood to propel the Penguins to a 3-2 win in Game 3 to cut Detroit’s series lead to 2-1.  Game 4 will be back in Pittsburgh on Saturday night.

The Penguins improved to 9-0 at home in this year’s playoffs and haven’t lost in Mellon Arena since Feb.24th.  Pens goalie Marc-Andre Fleury, who turned in his best effort in these finals with 32 stops, hasn’t lost in the Igloo since Thanksgiving.  Johan Franzen’s second period power play goal and Mikael Samuelsson’s third period tally were the lone Detroit shots to beat Fleury.

Wings goalie Chris Osgood turned aside 21 shots, but suffered his first Stanley Cup Finals loss as the Wings’ starting netminder.  Osgood entered with a perfect 6-0 finals record, leading Detroit to a finals sweep of the Washington Capitals in 1998, and winning the first two games of these finals via shutout. 

With the Pens in a certain must-win situation and with the home crowd, it would have probably been naiive to think Detroit was going to sweep and shut out Pittsburgh in four straight games.  Pittsburgh needed someone to step up, and who better than the reigning MVP in Crosby.  They needed Fleury to be a lot better at home than in Detroit, and he was. 

While the Wings still hold a 2-1 series lead, it seems as though now we have a series, which couldn’t make the NHL, Pierre McGuire, Ed Olcyzk, Barry Melrose, Steve Levy and the man on the moon any happier.  Detroit faltered, and the Penguins pounced.  Crosby got the goals and the interviews.  Ah, all is right with the world.  The sun is shining a bit brighter.  The grass is greener.  You get the idea.

So now for the first time, we saw all the bounces aren’t going to go the Wings’ way, the Penguins won’t be the only ones to hit posts and fail to capitalize on opportunities.  It wasn’t as though the Wings were thoroughly dominated in Game 3.  They began Game 3 just as they did in the first two games, pushing the tempo early and taking it to the Pens.  They played beautifully for 14 minutes in the first period, outshooting Pittsburgh 9-1.  But then Brad Stuart made a bad pass into the skates of Henrik Zetterberg that resulted in Crosby pushing hard to the net, and scoring the game’s first goal and his team’s first goal of the series.

And from that point on, the Penguins became a different team.  Their confidence grew, and you just knew that if the Penguins saw the puck find the back of the net, they were going to be a different team.  They finally put the Wings in chase mode, a feat Detroit was unable to overcome despite a strong third period effort.  For Detroit, Hall’s fluky goal off Osgood hurt, but their power play isn’t helping out.  So far in this series, the Wings are 2-for-19 with the extra man advantage, moreso their first unit of Zetterberg, Datsyuk, Holmstrom, Lidstrom and Rafalski have found little to no success thus far. 

The Wings know they can play better, and to beat the Penguins at home, they’ll have no choice but to be better in Game 4.  Taking care of the puck in their own end will go a long way to rectifying their tough Game 3 loss.  Certainly, there won’t be any panic coming from the boys in red and white, and there’s no reason to.  You expect the Penguins to be a different team a home, a better team.  They benefited from the having the last change, and it got Crosby away from Datsyuk and Zetterberg.

As Game 4 looms, the Penguins are feeling confident.  They believe they’re capable of not only playing, but beating the Wings.  Pittsburgh showed signs of life and they’re energized now, making Game 4 even more important than Game 3.  The Wings weren’t as good in Game 3 and it cost them.  Now it’s up to Detroit to respond.

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Wings shut down, shut out Penguins to go up 2-0 in Cup finals

The venue and atmosphere didn’t change, and the result was almost the same as well.  Behind a raucous crowd, outstanding defense, and maybe the most overlooked factor of all, Chris Osgood, the Red Wings blanked the Penguins, 3-0, in Game 2 and now head to Pittsburgh with a 2-0 series lead in the Stanley Cup Finals. 

Detroit has now outscored Pittsburgh, 7-0, in the first two games, befuddling the Penguins with maybe their best defensive effort through 2 games all season long.  Right now, it’s as if the Wings are allowed to use turbo boosters on their skates to get up and down the ice, whereas the Penguins are working out quicksand with cement in their skates. 

It’s been 135:57 minutes since the Penguins last put a puck in the back of the net, dating back to Pascal Dupuis’ goal 4:03 into the third period against the Flyers in the conference finals.  Chris Osgood earned his 13th career playoff shutout by stopping 22 shots.  Osgood’s shutout streak is now at 137:33 since he last surrendered a goal to Dallas, and the first netminder to post shutouts in the first two games in the Stanley Cup Finals since Devils goalie Martin Brodeur did so in 2003 against Anaheim.

Much was made about the duos and star power on each side, but other than Detroit’s defensive dominance, the Wings’ secondary players have been the story.  In Game 1, it was Mikael Samuelsson and Dan Cleary lifting the Wings to victory.  In Game 2, the names were differen’t, but they helped produce the same outcome.  Brad Stuart scored his first ever goal in the finals to give the Wings a 1-0 lead, and pesky net prescence Tomas Holmstrom slammed in a loose puck behind Penguins goalie Marc-Andre Fleury 4:23 later to give the Wings a 2-0 lead after the first period.

In the first period, the Wings had two goals and eight shots on Fleury before the Penguins recorded their first shot.  The Penguins only had six shots after 20 minutes of play, none of which came 5-on-5.  Looking up at the Wings, and chasing the puck for the second straight game, Pittsburgh faces way more questions than they’ve found answers.  Valtteri Filppula scored a tremendous, Bobby Orrish type goal 8:48 in the third with both teams skatking 4-on-4 to seal the win in Game 2.

So now the question is as the venue changes to Pittsburgh, where the Penguins are a perfect 8-0 at home, are the Pens terribly in over their heads or will they hold serve on home ice?  Coach Michel Therrien rearranged his lines in Game 2, and found very little results.  They tried their hardest to mix it up and go after the Wings, hoping to rattle Detroit.  Gary Roberts took a cheap shot at Johan Franzen’s head.  Ryan Malone made three trips to the penalty box, and then there was that whole end of game brew-ha-ha sparked by Petr Sykora knocking down Osgood.

Nothing worked for the Penguins, and there was very little useable game film to take anything positive away from their play the first six periods.  The Wings improve to 9-1 at Joe Louis Arena this postseason, making Pittsburgh the fourth straight team in this year’s playoffs to fall behind Detroit 2-0 in a series. 

For Pittsburgh, no doubt the home crowd will give them a bit more energy in Game 3, if nothing else, making the first 10 minutes of the game vital for the Wings go come out blazing at the start the way they did in Game 2.  They way they did against Dallas in Game 6 to eliminate the Stars.  As the home team, the Penguins will benefit from having the last change, which they’re hoping will make it easier for them to get Sidney Crosby away from Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk. 

Inside the Igloo, the Penguins have won 16 consecutive games, dating all the way back to Feb. 24th

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