Through 3+ games in the Stanley Cup Final, and even through much of this playoffs and this Cup run, the Penguins power play had not been very successful. Early in Game 4, they had an opportunity with the man advantage where they didn't look bad, but didn't score. The next opportunity, they didn't waste. They cashed in early with a big goal from Evgeni Malkin, thanks to an elite pass from potential Conn Smythe Trophy winner in Phil Kessel. Here's a breakdown of how quickly this play happened and how the puck found itself in the back of the net.
It all started with Sidney Crosby cheating in order to win the face-off in the offensive zone. If he doesn't cheat, he doesn't win the puck clean. Plain and simple.
After Crosby won the draw clean to Letang, he moves towards the center of the ice, while Phil Kessel and Patric Hornqvist shift to their left, in order to set up the unit.
Kris Letang then uses his skating ability to back off of the play, towards the blue line, while Phil Kessel opens up to his left for a passing option.
Kessel takes the quick pass from Letang, and dishes it back to him. Letang then takes it as a one-touch pass and it feeds it back to Kessel. The key here is that the give-and-go from Letang back to Kessel is that it drew Matt Nieto away from the shooting (and ultimately, the passing) lane.
As Kessel takes the pass back, he immediately moves towards the the face-off circle, and to a great shooting spot.
As Kessel hits the edge of the face-off circle, he opens up for the pass, and Evgeni Malkin sneaks into the back door.
For some reason, Justin Braun stays out in front of the net, instead of covering Malkin.
Kessel takes advantage of the space afforded to him and he puts it right on Malkin's tape. An enormous key here is Malkin's foot positioning. The way he kept his skates together, he could have used them as an option to stop the puck if it did not hit his stick.
The puck ended ended up going in off of the shaft of his stick, just above the blade, but you can see here how important of a play this was for him to make, just in case his skates were needed.
The million dollar question here, is what in the world was Justin Braun thinking? Phil Kessel had four potential options of what he could do with the puck.
- Shoot the puck. This was not an option, as Marc-Edouard Vlasic had taken down the shooting angle,
- A far-side pass to Sidney Crosby, which would have been a terrible idea, as Chris Tierney was all over the passing lane
- A pass to Patric Hornqvist, which also wouldn't have been a great idea, as Hornqvist would've been on his backhand, and not in a great position to put a good shot on net
- Pass the puck to a wide open Evgeni Malkin. Ding, ding, ding, we have a winner.
Braun was left in no-man's land, watching all of this happen in front of him, and by the time he realized how open Malkin was, it was all over.
Just like that, it was 2-0 Penguins, and they had a massive advantage in the second period. San Jose would end up netting one, but the 2-goal lead was so, so, so important for Pittsburgh.
They now sit with a 3-1 series lead and are headed back home, looking to win the Cup on home ice.