With a third period winner, Jiri Hudler has pushed the Pittsburgh Penguins to the brink of elimination as the Detroit Red Wings skate away with a 2-1 victory in Game 4.
The Wings now hold a 3-1 series lead and can claim the franchise's 11th Stanley Cup at Joe Louis Arena on Monday in Game 5. Despite the victory, the Red Wings did not want to get ahead of themselves.
"We haven't won anything yet," stated captain Nicklas Lidstrom. "But sure, you're excited to be in a position like this. This is where you want to be, to have a chance to win the Stanley Cup.''
Hudler played the role of hero as he backhanded home his fifth goal of the post-season past Marc-Andre Fleury just 2:26 in to the final frame after the Penguins were not able to clear the defensive zone.
"It's not a shot I couldn't stop," Fleury stated following the game.
The win by Detroit snapped Pittsburgh's 17-game winning streak at home and was the Penguins first home loss of the playoffs.
The Penguins downfall was their inability to take advantage on the power play. The most glaring example came mid-way through the third period as they could beat Chris Osgood with a two-man advantage. Sidney Crosby had an excellent chance to even the score however he was being tied up by Henrik Zetterberg at the side of the net.
"The first thing I thought was, 'I can't believe that just happened,'" said Red Wings head coach Mike Babcock about the penalty decision. "We have a veteran team. When you've got veterans, it really helps you get through situations like that."
Babcock was also quick to praise his two Selke Trophy nominated superstars for their abilities to help keep the Penguins' snipers off the board.
"I thought Zetterberg was fantastic," said head coach Mike Babcock. "So was Datsyuk on that 5-on-3, and Kronwall and Lidstrom.
"In those situations the pressure of the playoffs and the situation helps the penalty- kill. If that's November, it's tic-tac-toe and it's in your net so fast. But the pressure makes it harder for them to execute."
Osgood also withstood a late flurry by the Penguins with Fleury pulled but Pittsburgh was unable to beat the Peace River, Alberta native.
"It's fun playing against this team because there's a lot of action," Osgood said. "These guys are all-stars, world class players."
As the final whistle blew, Crosby attempted to get at several Wings' players, perhaps setting a tone for Game 5. After the game Crosby said he realized the predicament that his team was in.
"Right now, we know we have to play even better," Crosby said. "There's no choice now. We have to win to stay in."
Penguins' head coach Michel Therrien was at a loss to explain his team's inabilities to score despite numerous chances with the power play, specifically the two-man advantage in the third.
"Tough to explain," Therrien stated at the podium following the game. "There's no doubt we needed to get that goal. We didn't execute well. We had a good chance to tie the game right there, and we didn't do the job."
A "Sea of White" by the fans greeted the Penguins as they hit the ice as 17, 132 fans packed the Mellon Arena to attempt to motivate their team to even the series at two games apiece.
The game began with a frenetic opening frame that saw the teams alternate scoring chances.
Marian Hossa, who was the Penguins' most dangerous player all night after being largely anonymous through the first three games, opened the scoring on the power play. Hossa batted a rebound past Osgood with Dallas Drake sitting in the penalty box.
The goal was Hossa's 10th of the post-season, but first of the series. Sergei Gonchar and Crosby picked up assists on the goal. The assist is Crosby's 18th of the playoffs and 23rd point, drawing him even with Zetterberg atop the post-season scoring list.
The first goal had been ultra important for the Penguins throughout the playoffs as they were a perfect 11-0 when scoring first going in to this one.
Detroit responded just four minutes later as Lidstrom's point blast eluded Fleury for the Wings' captain's third goal of the playoffs.
With the goal, Lidstrom takes sole possession of third place in career playoff goals by a defenceman with 42, one more than Ray Bourque. Paul Coffey holds the all-time lead with 59.
After the two sides got into their rhythm in the middle frame, it was the Penguins with the best opportunity to grab an advantage but Osgood came up with a pair of spectacular saves on Pascal Dupuis and Crosby half-way through the period on chances created by Hossa.
Once again Evgeni Malkin was completely neutralized by the Wings, managing only four shots on net, none particularly dangerous. He remains without a point in the series.
"I'm pretty frustrated," Malkin said through his translator. "I'm disappointed I haven't scored any goals. I'm have to work harder.
"If I score one goal, maybe I'll get away from this streak."
Therrien was quick to defend his young star.
"He tried, but nothing is happening for him," Therrien told reporters.
Referees Marc Joannette and Brad Watson have been kept extremely busy in the first period calling 10 minutes in penalties on the Wings while Pittsburgh countered with six minutes of their own. Overall the Penguins held a 16-10 advantage in power play time but were still outshot 30-23.
The Wings' received some discouraging news prior to the game as forward Tomas Holmstrom did not take the pre-game skate as he had not fully recovered from a lower-body injury suffered in Game 3 from a check from Pens' defenceman Brooks Orpik. He was replaced in the lineup by Darren McCarty who is skating on the fourth line. Dan Cleary took Holmstrom's spot on the top line.
Prior to the game, the two teams observed a moment of silence for Canucks' rookie Luc Bourdon who passed away earlier this week in a motorcycle accident.
Penguins' rookie defenceman and Bourdon's former junior team mate and best friend Kris Letang sat out this one as a healthy scratch for the second straight game. Veteran Darryl Sydor took his place on the Penguins' blueline.