Heading into Game 4 of this year's edition of the Stanley Cup Final, the Detroit Red Wings were following the same script they wrote to perfection in 2008.
Win the first two games of the series at home, lose the next game in Pittsburgh, before rebounding with a win in Game 4 to take a 3-1 stranglehold on the series. After all, the engravers deserve a bit of a head start when working with something as prestigious as Lord Stanley's Cup.
It appeared as though the Red Wings were copying the '08 blueprint line by line, as midway through the second period of Thursday's game, Detroit held a 2-1 lead, the exact same score by which they won Game 4 a year ago. With Brooks Orpik serving a two-minute minor for tripping, the Penguins' home crowd had been neutralized; holding their collective breath for what could potentially be a debilitating powerplay goal.
That's when the script changed dramatically. Maxime Talbot blocked Nicklas Lidstrom's shot in the Penguins' zone, and sprung Jordan Staal with a lead pass at centre ice. Staal, waking up from his eight-game goalless slumber, maneuvered past Brian Rafalski and scored short-handed on Chris Osgood to tie the game. Suddenly the Red Wings storybook ending has a major plot twist; the upstart Penguins have life, while the aging Red Wings are watching their plans for a sequel fall apart.
“That was momentum changing. You know, they scored the shorthand deep goals and that kind of gave them momentum, especially in their building,” said Red Wings' forward Marian Hossa. ‘They also got the jump and after they got another [goal] from our mistakes.”
“I guess, let's give their power play credit and their penalty kill credit,” conceded Detroit's head coach Mike Babcock. “I thought we were awful on the power play last night. I thought it sucked the life right out of us. In saying that, you know, it's like anything is, that we had a big opportunity to go up 3-1 in the hockey game. And suddenly the game's 2-2, and then 3-2 before you even recover from that situation.”
Should the Pens go on to win two of the next three games, Staal's goal will most likely be considered the TSN Turning Point, not only for Game 4, but the entire 2009 Stanley Cup Final. His short-handed tally proved to be a catalyst for the Penguins, as it sparked the crowd and his teammates. Virtually silent throughout the series, Sidney Crosby netted the go-ahead goal on a pass from Evgeni Malkin just two-minutes later, and Tyler Kennedy found the back of the net for a 4-2 final.
What could have been a crib notes edition of last year's final has quickly turned into an epic tale, for which the ending remains up in the air, with one question still to be answered: Who writes the next chapter?
“I'm sure nobody likes to get score on shorthanded,” said Crosby. “I think for us that was a big one. We probably lost the momentum with those penalties. To be able to bounce back and get a big one like that was huge.”
The goal was Staal's first in eight games, something critics were quick to point out prior to last night, but it was a stat that failed to tell the real story, according to Penguins' head coach Dan Bylsma.
“You don't necessarily need to score a goal to know that you're doing your job or playing the right way,” explained Bylsma. “I thought Game 3 was [Staal]'s best game to that point. He was getting back to being a presence in the offensive zone, and speed through the neutral zone. Then last night was even better.”
Even with the excitement generated by Staal's mark and the eventual win in Game 4, climbing out of the 2-0 hole is still a rare feat. Only three teams have come back to win the Cup after dropping the first two games of the series, including the Toronto Maple Leafs in 1942, and the Montreal Canadians in 1966 and 1971. The good news for Pittsburgh is that two of those teams did it against the Red Wings.
“I see every game as a separate entity,” said Bylsma. “If we have the momentum right now, we have to reestablish it with our first shift or how we play in the next game. They're going home. They get Game 5 at home, and they're going to regroup, and they'll be refocused and reenergized and they're going to get the bump and the boost from their fans, and then it's about how the game is played once the puck is dropped.”