PITTSBURGH – Uh-oh.
This is not good. I don’t want to say signs are ominous, but if the Red Wings passed a fortune teller right now, they would hide their palms in their pockets. The stars came out for the Penguins on Thursday night, and it is officially no longer last year anymore.
Last year, the Stanley Cup finals were never tied. Last year, the only team with a chance to win in six was the Wings. Last year, Sidney Crosby seemed a lot younger, and Evgeni Malkin seemed like just one man, instead of the five he looked like in Game 4 – here, there, everywhere.
“He dominated tonight,” Crosby told Versus of his teammate who had a goal and an assist in Pittsburgh’s 4-2 victory.
And that’s from Sidney Crosby.
When Crosby and Malkin were on the ice together, they looked like their pre-series billing – two of the biggest stars in the game, and damn hard to stop. They may have been behind the clouds a bit this series, but they lit up the arena in Game 4, and Jordan Staal, also previously cloudy, was flickering on, and Marc-Andre Fleury seemed a lot more porous in Game 1.
Now the Penguins are flashing like a Broadway marquee, two straight victories and a confidence that grows quickly when you’re young, fast and healthy. The Wings’ best chance in this series was to win it early, use their first-strike experience to knock out the Pens before they realized how good they were.
That chance is gone. It’s a minimum six, looking more like seven, and if the Wings win this Cup, they’ll have to fight for every silver inch of it – and may have to get out of their own way.
Far too many turnovers
The trouble began, as it sometimes does in horror stories, when things looked the sunniest, the Wings with a brief two-man advantage and a one-goal lead.
And then the bottom fell out.
About the worst thing you can do on the road is give up a short-handed goal. The Wings did it after Malkin stole the puck, took it toward the Wings’ end. Moments later, Staal shouldered past Brian Rafalski and beat Chris Osgood with a fast shot.
That tied it.
Then Malkin stole the puck again, led a two-on-one break with Crosby, and, despite a desperate dive by Jonathan Ericsson, Malkin got a second chance at a perfect pass and Crosby put it past Osgood.
That untied it.
Three minutes later, the Wings turned it over again, Crosby made a perfect pass to Tyler Kennedy – and another puck went past Osgood.
That sealed it.
It took five minutes and 37 seconds. That’s all. The game, the series, maybe the fortunes of that silver cup – in 5:37.
“We turned the puck over enough in the next five minutes for the whole game,” Mike Babcock said.
And to think, before Thursday, their biggest problem was the penalty kill.
A challenge for the ages
Now. The Wings can survive this. They are mentally tough. But they’ll have to up that toughness a few notches. No more waiting on Marian Hossa to score something. He’s not being paid to make nice spin moves near the side boards. No more waiting on Pavel Datsyuk. If he really can play, he better get out there. No more blowing 2-1 leads. And no more automatic Penguins-Power-Play-Equals-Penguins-Goal. It happened again Thursday, in the opening three minutes, scored off the back boards by Malkin.
And, hello? Doesn’t Malkin demand his own game plan? He may look like he’s in “High School Musical,” but he leads the playoffs in points (35, nearly two-a-game average). He steals. He passes. He fires. He’s constantly speeding toward Osgood like the soldier who keeps charging over the hill, screaming as he fires. You chase him away, and a moment later, here he comes, screaming again.
Maybe Henrik Zetterberg should shadow him.
Look. A finals is a symphony of surges and quieter passages. And the Wings can surge again. But the stakes have been upped. They’ll have to be better. They can’t give up the puck the way they’re doing and expect to survive.
This isn’t last year. It’s not even Game 1 or 2. The same Wings team doing the same Wings thing is liable to lose, because Pittsburgh is a different team now. And the Wings are going to have to be a bit different, too.