Pittsburgh went into Game 5 of the Stanley Cup final Saturday night at Joe Louis Arena fully expecting to see the very best that Detroit had to offer.
What the Penguins didn’t anticipate was that they would respond to that with something worse than anyone could have imagined.
The final score in the Red Wings’ 5-0 victory, which gives Detroit a 3-2 lead in the series as it heads back to Mellon Arena for Game 6 on Tuesday, only hints at their dominance during the final two periods. For after a fairly strong opening 20 minutes by the Penguins, Pittsburgh completely unraveled — especially during the second period, when the Red Wings ran off four unanswered goals while outshooting the Penguins 15-6.
“It was an awful second period,” defenseman Mark Eaton said.
The Penguins’ worst of these playoffs, actually, in large part because they were assessed — very much on merit — all five of the penalties handed about by referees Paul Devorski and Dennis LaRue in the period. The irony is that in the previous game, the Penguins had scored three unanswered goals in a span of little more than 5½ minutes during the second period to turn a 2-1 deficit into a 4-2 victory.
Pittsburgh didn’t give up any goals in the third period of Game 5, but the Red Wings didn’t need any more by that time. The simple truth is, the only thing the Penguins did consistently well after the first intermission was to self-destruct, often by taking utterly pointless penalties.
“It wasn’t so much that we played our game and lost,” defenceman Rob Scuderi said. “We continually shot ourselves in the foot and didn’t give ourselves a chance.”
That isn’t much consolation at this time of year, although with just one more defeat separating them from the off-season the Penguins at least can feel reasonably confident that their performance in Game 6 won’t sink to the depths they reached Saturday.
"When you don't play well at all, you have nothing to do but improve, and we have to," centre Sidney Crosby said. "The situation is pretty clear for us.”
In some ways, playing as poorly as they did might make it easier for the Penguins to shake off the effects of losing Game 5. They did so many things so poorly that there’s no point in reliving the game, or over-analyzing details to figure out what went wrong.
Simply put, almost everything did.
“I think it’s easier to lose like that than to lose 2-1 in overtime,” forward Max Talbot said. “They played really well. We didn’t.”
The only positive for the Penguins was that, awful as they were during most of the final 40 minutes, this defeat was no more costly than the ones they absorbed during Games 1 and 2, when they performed at a considerably higher level and actually had a reasonable shot at winning.
“They got one win tonight,” Talbot said. “It’s 3-2, and I don’t think we’re in that bad of a situation. If you would have told me at the start of the year that we’d be down 3-2 in the Stanley Cup final going back home, I’d take it any day.”
Nonetheless, Detroit will have a chance to clinch another Cup in Game 6 at Mellon Arena, which is precisely what happened during the final a year ago.
“Our backs are against the wall now,” Eaton said. “We expect our best effort of the year Tuesday.”
Penguins lose their cool
Perhaps even more troubling than the magnitude of the Penguins’ defeat was their lack of composure when Detroit began to take over the game. Pittsburgh was assessed 46 minutes in penalties — 30 of those coming in misconducts — during the final two periods; Detroit got one minor and one misconduct during the same span.
“We started being undisciplined, took some bad penalties,” Talbot said.
That problem was compounded by the efficiency of Detroit’s power play, which was just 1-for-10 in the series before generating goals during three consecutive chances with the extra man.
“We took too many penalties, and against this team it’s just a matter of time until their power play starts to turn around,” Scuderi said. “And they certainly did a heck of a job tonight.”
Pittsburgh coach Dan Bylsma, who makes a point of trying to keep his players on an even keel, said he wasn’t surprised that the Penguins’ frustrations resulted in a steady parade to the penalty box.
“You're going to have emotions in a situation where you're not getting a result,” he said. “The other team fills the net on you. I think our guys were frustrated... and started to get off the page by trying to run around and be physical. It's a show of emotion.
“We certainly tried to regroup and get back to staying on the same page. But emotions come to the surface in hockey, and they force us into a situation where we were frustrated and they had a big lead with the crowd going at home.
“We tried to refocus for sure, but I wasn't surprised how we reacted and tried to play physical. And that's not the first time that's happened in hockey.”
Some of Pittsburgh’s best players had the team’s worst individual statistics during Game 5. A sampling:
Sidney Crosby: one shot, minus-2.
Marc-Andre Fleury: 21 shots against, four goals allowed.
Evgeni Malkin: one shot, minus-1, six penalty minutes.
Chris Kunitz: no shots, minus-2.
The home team has won each of the first five games in this series, a trend that Penguins can only hope continues in Game 6.
“We've got to go home and use the energy of the home crowd to our advantage,” Bylsma said.
This is the first time since 1978, when Boston faced Montreal, that the home club has won each of the first five games in a Cup final, and it’s possible that this will become the fourth final in history in which the home club wins every game. That happened in 1955 (Detroit, Montreal), 1965 (Montreal, Chicago) an 2003 (New Jersey, Anaheim).
Fleury was coming off a superb 37-save performance during Pittsburgh’s 4-2 victory in Game 4, but gave up five goals in 35:40 before being replaced by Mathieu Garon for the balance of the game. It marked the first time Fleury was pulled — or Garon has played — during these playoffs.
How Fleury responds in Game 6 will go a long way toward determining whether Pittsburgh will have a legitimate shot at extending the series, but his teammates made a point after Game 5 of absolving him of any major responsibility for the Penguins’ lopsided loss.
“You can’t fault him for a lot of those goals,” Eaton said.
Extra day off
It remains to be seen how Pittsburgh will react to the beating it took in Game 5, and whether having an extra day to get over it will work to the Penguins’ advantage.
In this instance, having two days between games might be a good thing for them.
“We have two days here to regroup and refocus,” Bylsma said. “And we will.”
But, in general, most players would prefer to stay in a rhythm of playing every second day.
“You’d probably rather go every other day,” Eaton said. “You get into a pretty good routine with the game-day off-game-day off. It’s kind of nice that way. But it’s the same schedule for both teams, so it shouldn’t pose a problem either way.”
If the Penguins manage to extend the series to a seventh game, there will be two off-days leading up to it.
- Penguins' Talbot cements reputation as big-game player
- Saturday, June 13, 2009
- Red Wings too late in arriving in Game 7
- Saturday, June 13, 2009
- Penguins sticking to regular routines
- Friday, June 12, 2009
- Babcock low-key all the way for Game 7
- Friday, June 12, 2009
- Rafalski shares Game 7 Stanley Cup wisdom
- Thursday, June 11, 2009
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