The Merriam-Webster definition of momentum that pertains to the sports world is as follows: 'strength or force gained by motion or through the development of events'. I think it's fair to trim some of those words out and describe it this way: 'force gained through the development of events.' Let's take a look back through the games in this series and see what forces were gained and lost and what events developed.
Game 1 in Detroit: Events in this game revolved around puck bounces. A pinball-like action sent a puck screaming back off the end boards behind Marc-Andre Fleury, into his pads and then in the net. Then it happened again. Finally, a puck deflection lifted the frozen piece of rubber skyward and left Jordan Staal bewildered as to its location. When it landed, Staal was of no help to his goaltender and the Wings' Abdelkader jammed it in the top shelf to cap off a 3-1 victory.
Momentum result: Detroit - weak to moderate. It was only one game and a better Pens effort in JLA than in Game 1 of the previous year. The Pens felt like they only lost on account of bounces and a questionable non-call on Zetterberg's glove action in the crease.
Game 2 in Detroit: A closer game than Game 1, the Pens avoided most of the endboard calamity and instead were victimized by a sharp Chris Osgood and another questionable non-call when Pascal Dupuis' stick was shattered by an oncoming Marian Hossa following a Penguins penalty kill. Still, the defending Cup champs were strong here, and rookie Abdelkader once again tallied the 3rd and final goal of this game.
Momentum result: Detroit - strong to very strong. Pens fans were extremely frustrated after this one(including yours truly). No matter how much better the Pens had played in the first two games than last year, the result was the same, down 0-2 going home. The JLA felt like a house of horrors for the Pens and things looked extremely bleak. On the other side, the Wings had shown they could handle the talented Crosby and Malkin and Osgood was in top form.
Game 3 in Pittsburgh: Finally back in the confines of the Mellon Arena, the Pens struck early with a Max Talbot goal that energized their team. The Wings showed great poise and answered back with two goals of their own, only to see Kris Letang fire home a power play goal that tied things up before the buzzer rang ending the first period. The second period was a trail by fire. The defending Cup champs dominated for twenty minutes, showing their top form. The Pens bent, but somehow didn't break. Sergei Gonchar's game-winning power-play goal in the third period ignited the team, the fans and the players and gave the Penguins life.
Momentum result: Even. Detroit played strong in a losing effort and still held a 2-1 lead with a chance to split on the road. The Pens staved off an impossible 0-3 hole and were halfway home to tying the series up.
Game 4 in Pittsburgh: After some trading of red-lights in the first period, the game was tied at one goal a piece. Brad Stuart's goal for the Wings early in the second was quickly erased from memory when a storm of white, black and goal crashed over the Mellon Arena in a six-minute deluge that resulted in a 4-2 Penguins lead and eventual victory that would knot the series at two games even. Jordan Staal's short-handed tally - the Pens second goal - was a forceful blast that turned the entire game on its head. For once, the Wings looked human and beatable and the Pens surged forward with confidence.
Momentum result: Pittsburgh - weak to moderate. After suffering defeat in well-played efforts in Games 1 and 2, the Pens showed heart and toughness in tying the series up. They looked strong, calm, and ready to revisit the JLA and come out victorious coming back home. The Wings looked a little tired, a little demoralized without Pavel Datsyuk ready to play, but still comfortable that they were not done in this series.
Game 5 in Detroit: After a six-minute opening that saw zero whistles and up-and-down action that favored the upstart Penguins, an early penalty was called on Detroit. The Penguins would misfire and stutter in the face of a strong Wings penalty kill. Following shortly after, the newly-returned Datsyuk fed a pass across to Dan Cleary, who flicked a wobbly puck through the legs of defenseman Brooks Oprik and behind Fleury. A soft goal, perhaps, but it counted. A quick goal for the Wings in the second period to make it 2-0 and this one was over early. The Pens came wildly unglued and the result was a 5-0 defeat that resulted in a quick exit for Fleury, a total lack of control and poise and a feeling that they were mentally unprepared for this Wings retort.
Momentum result: Detroit - strong. The Wings proved once again that they own the JLA ice and that a couple of losses on the road weren't going to de-rail their confidence. They jumped on the Pens early and were more than willing to capitalize on all the power plays handed to them. For the Pens part, they played their worst game of the season at the worst time. Now, they return home down 2-3 knowing that a Stanley Cup victory necessitates another victory on home ice in Game 6 and the elusive road victory in Game 7.
The moral of the story? Playoff momentum can be strong, but it must always be maintained, because it can be lost in a heartbeat. Here's to hoping the development of events in Games 6 and 7 lead to a Penguins force that cannot be contained.
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