Race to 4 in High Gear

A Penguin win in Game 4 of the Stanley Cups Finals Thursday night changes the complexion of the series. The fourth game in six nights seemed to take its toll on the Detroit Red Wings, but it could be argued that the Wings were beginning to feel the effects back in the latter part of Game 3.

Game 3 was not the Penguins’ best game and lacked consistency. They will tell you this, but they got what they needed: a solid effort by netminder Marc-Andre Fleury who weathered a barrage of 14 Wings shots on net in yet another troubling second period, holding their opponent scoreless.

Game 3 Notables–while a bit ugly, a win is a win, and it had elements in it that showed the character of the team as well as their depth:

  • Hits–a staggering 36 hits executed by Penguins on Red Wings. Chris Kunitz led the way with a Herculean personal effort, laying 11 hits on the opponent. Both Matt Cooke and Brooks Orpik chipped in for 5 hits each, and while these three guys had the lion’s share of it, they were by no means the only ones. No less than 14 of the 18 players had at least one hit.
  • Blocked Shots–Penguins had a total of 18 blocked shots; Jordan Staal led the way with 3 and 13 other team mates had at least 1 blocked shot, showing their total commitment to protecting Fleury.
  • Second Line Gellin’–Something about Mad Max Talbot has ignited linemates Evgeni Malkin and Ruslan Fedotenko. Talbot managed 2 goals, and he keeps the line loose. As Geno congenially noted about Max in the press conference, teasing: ”little bit bad hands…missed lots of chances…has summer to learn,” but the big Russian center gave his recent winger high praise for his energy and work ethic. Clearly, this line is clicking.

On to Game 4

Thursday night’s second home game of the series for the Pens picked up where the previous game left off as the Penguins scored yet another power play goal. Play was much more consistent from first period to last with surges by the Red Wings, particularly when they managed a late first period goal to draw even, and then opened the second period with a go-ahead goal. That was the last time they led in the game.

Notables

  • Special Teams #1 (Power Play)–The one special teams element that had been plaguing this crew all season long and early in the playoff run has awakened, and that’s dangerous for the Red Wings who fall in the middle of the NHL pack on penalty killing. So far in this series, the Penguins power play is humming along at 45.5%.
  • Special Teams #2 (Penalty Kill)–Not to be outdone was the Pens’ penalty kill unit. After the Wings had gone up 2-1, Malkin rallied the troops with a short-handed break-away that Chris Osgood managed to turn back, but that was only the first wave. The Penguins’ PK continued to battle hard and both Talbot and Staal broke loose. Talbot laid a perfect pass to Staal who took off, drew even with Wings’ defenseman,  Brian Rafalski, turned on the jets with his characteristic left-handed power move and drew Osgood off his line, deking him for a great short-handed goal that pulled the Penguins even at 2 and turned the tide.
  • A Flurry of Fleury, Part II–Marc-Andre Fleury hit his stride in this game, turning in an even more spectacular performance as he turned away 39 shots, broken down by period: 19/9/11. His stick handling around the back of the net was less nerve-wracking and more sure, and his team gave up the body on 15 shots led by defensemen Brooks Orpik and Rob Scuderi who stopped 3 each.
  • Hits, Hits, and More Hits–The Penguins’ hit total stayed in the 30s (32), and the Wings pulled themselves up and matched the Penguins’ physicality with 33 hits for a game total of 65 hits. Thus far, these two teams have exchanged 267 hits, averaging 33 per game, and yet, the Pens continue to look fresh and ready to lay on more with mustard.
  • Tic-Tac-Toe–The cherry on top, as if the previous three Penguins’ goals could not be bested, was the textbook tape to tape (to tape) passing from Chris Kunitz, across to Sidney Crosby, and back again to Tyler Kennedy who buried a one-timer blocker side before Osgood had a chance to finish tracking Kunitz’ pass.

Prior to tonight, Marian Hossa had consistently scored 2 goals in Game 4 of each round of this season’s playoffs. The Penguins got the memo, keeping Hossa pointless on 6 shots. It is noticeable that Hossa does not have the same first-step quickness he possessed in the first two games.

As a whole, where the Wings looked gassed at the end of Game 3, they were showing signs of not being able to sustain surges for very long, starting after their early second period goal. These surges became fewer and for shorter duration as the game wore on. It was very apparent in the last part of the third period as the Penguins imposed their will, wearing down the clock and making Detroit come the full 200 feet with the puck.

Game 4 is an encouraging sign that the Pens are for real and real serious. The fact that they are heading into Detroit’s house on Saturday seems less of a factor than it did in the first two games. It is as if the team, like Jordan Staal according to Coach Dan Bylsma, needed to get a feel for the style of the Wings’ play after coming off seven games against the Caps’ style. It seems they have acclimated.

Stanley Cup Finals - Detroit Red Wings v Pittsburgh Penguins - Game Four

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