On June 4th, the one year anniversary of Detroit raising the Cup on Mellon Arena ice, the Pens and Wings played 4th game in six nights of the 2009 Stanley Cup Finals. Your age of the Penguins four different goal scorers: 22, 20, 21 and 22. The age of the two Detroit goal scorers? 22 and 29. Is it becoming a young man's series? Perhaps. If so, you really have to like Pittsburgh's chances.
Still, the aim is to hold home ice and both Detroit and Pittsburgh has done so. Now we have a glorified best of 3 (with two games at "The Joe") so nothing is decided yet. The only thing for sure is this isn't the same series as last year and this isn't the same Pittsburgh team as last year.
- And the main difference is Evgeni Malkin. Even though he scored three points in the last two games of last year's SC Finals, he wasn't really a factor for the whole series due to illness and general exhaustion. This year Geno is a difference maker. He's clearly the best player on the ice out there. No one can stop him, no one can really even slow him. Even after taking an ill-advised hooking penalty 170 feet from his net, he came out of the box more determined and pissed than ever. If Malkin isn't #1 in the next Conn Smythe watch on Puck Daddy you ought to ignore it.
- But the Conn Smythe is far from decided. We're only halfway home. Important to emphasize that. Even though Malkin's hitting on all cylinders and Sidney Crosby was big, this thing is not over.
- Jordan Staal scored the goal of the game-- if not the series-- when he beat Brian Rafalski at the blueline and broke in. Red Wings' defensemen mishandling the puck has become a major factor (more of this to come). Staal muscled past Rafalski, knifed through Nicklas Lidstrom and beat Chris Osgood to tie the game a 2.
- Everyone was looking for a breakout game from Sidney Crosby, especially the media. Give credit to Henrik Zetterberg, Nicklas Lidstrom and the rest of the Detroit defense-- they've done a great job at containing and tight checking Sid. But Crosby's still gotten a bunch of chances, most have hit the post on his shots or passes...This game the puck ended up in the back of the net.
- Crosby got a beauty of a goal. Malkin pressured the Detroit defense and they fumbled it again, leading to a 2-on-1. Malkin's initial pass was blocked by a sprawling defenseman, but he didn't panic. And Crosby kept going to the net waiting for the puck. Malkin eventually found the puck, got it to Crosby who beat Osgood. As sweet as that goal (the eventual game winner) was, Crosby would have a nicer play on his assist 3 and a half minutes later.
- Chris Kunitz broke into the zone and wound up for a slapper, but he either saw Crosby and/or heard his call and sent a cross-ice pass over....Sid quickly snapped a pass through Lidstrom's legs and right on the tape of Tyler Kennedy's stick. Goal city. Game.
- Marc-Andre Fleury survived the tide, stopping 37 of 39 shots. And neither of the goals were really his fault....The usually Reliable Rob Scuderi got caught between a rock and a hard place, and instead of maybe skating the puck out he seemed to panic and threw a puck that got intercepted by Darren Helm. Credit Helm for getting there and a nice shot, as well as Dan Cleary for getting to the front of the net.
- The second Detroit goal was similar. Bill Guerin provided an inadvertent screen and Brad Stuart wheeled around and threw a nice shot on the net.
- By the way, Brad Stuart; despite playing 635 of his combined 738 career games (reg season and playoffs) in the Western Conference has scored 9 of his 67 career goals (13.4% of his total goals) against Pittsburgh.
- Stuart has only played 23 combined regular + post season games against the Penguins. So if you're keeping track at home, Stuart has an incredible (for a defenseman) .391 goals per game average against the Pens. That's is a pace of 32 goal season (the Caps Mike Green scored 31 this year to much deserved fanfare). Against the rest of the teams in the league not named Pittsburgh Brad Stuart has a .081 goals/game average (7 goals a season). Seems like Stuart likes playing against the Pens, huh? No one give this information to a team in the division like Philly or the Devils, OK?
So that's it, the Pens have held home ice. Last year at this time it was 3-1 going back to Detroit, now it's 2-2. We're a long way from deciding it, but as I pointed out at the beginning, the Pens younger legs may get a chance to shine through. Pittsburgh has to be happy that guys like Staal, Kennedy and Crosby are on the board now as well as the strong play of Fleury, and with two straight wins there ought to be some momentum carried forward.
But carry all the momentum you want, it won't mean anything on Saturday when the series shifts back to Detroit where there'll be a different crowd, different matchups and a place where Pittsburgh has lost 4 of the last 5 playoff games. They're gonna have to win one at The Joe to win the series, so we'll see if they have what it takes on Saturday night.
14 big wins down, but the last 2 will be the toughest of them all.