Just when there was a whisper of doubt in Hockeytown, the Detroit Red Wings responded with an effort fit for a Stanley Cup champion, scoring three power play goals en route to a 5-0 shutout victory over the Pittsburgh Penguins in Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Final.
Coming off back-to-back losses in Pittsburgh, some felt the Red Wings were looking tired and the youthful Penguins were taking over the series. But with the win, the Red Wings now take a 3-2 series lead into Game 6 on Tuesday night with a chance to defend their title at Mellon Arena in Pittsburgh.
"I keep hearing about how old we are," said Red Wings' head coach Mike Babcock, when asked if his team is wearing down. "But Datsyuk and Zetterberg are not that old, and Hossa's not that old, and Mule's not so old, so who is old? Cheli's older than me, I give you that."
Daniel Cleary, Valtteri Filppula, Niklas Kronwall, Brian Rafalski and Henrik Zetterberg scored for the Red Wings, who welcomed Hart Trophy candidate Pavel Datsyuk back to the lineup after a seven-game absence due to a foot injury.
"When I play more, I'm more comfortable," said Datsyuk, who contributed two assists in the victory. "(I have) lots of confidence and I'm feeling better and better."
Coming back in the middle of the Stanley Cup Final is not easy but Datsyuk certainly made a difference in his return.
"The Red Wings weren't sure what they were going to get from Datsyuk and there was a little bit of rust," said NHL on TSN analyst Ray Ferraro. "But when he has the puck, he's able to control it, allowing the Wings to cycle the puck well."
Kronwall took the first penalty of the game midway through the first period when he tripped up a rushing Chris Kunitz in the neutral zone. But the Penguins could not muster much in the way of sustained pressure during the power play.
That would be a sign of things to come as the Red Wings started to step up their game. Special teams has been the achilles heel for the Red Wings in the playoffs so killing off that first penalty was critical.
"Real big," answered Babcock, when asked about the importance of the penalty kill in the first period. "The other thing that was so important for us was the special teams battle had to be better. We just couldn't keep losing that battle."
With the Red Wings pressing late in the opening frame, Cleary took a pass from Datsyuk and beat Fleury with a wrist shot from the slot. Rafalski picked up the second assist on the play.
While Penguins head coach Dan Bylsma was happy with his team's start, he admitted Cleary's goal was pivotal at that juncture.
"If we score a goal, it's a different momentum in the game," said Bylsma. "But there's a lot of hockey to play at that point. I wouldn't say that was the particular turning point in the game. But they did gain momentum from it."
Early in the second period, Filppula scored for the Red Wings on the tail end of power play as the Red Wings started to assert themselves. And the next 6:42 would tell the story for the Penguins.
With Pittsburgh in the midst of a line change, goaltender Chris Osgood flipped the puck up to Marian Hossa, who hit Filppula in stride behind the Pens' defence. Filppula buried a backhand behind Fleury to the delight of the fans, who could feel the momentum starting to shift.
Kronwall followed that up with a power play marker when he came out of the corner and swept the puck past Fleury. Johan Franzen and Zetterberg assisted on the play.
Two minutes later, Rafalski fired a shot from the blueline that eluded Fleury and slipped inside the far post. Datsyuk and Nicklas Lidstrom picked up assists on that goal.
And before the fans could catch their breath from celebrating Filppula's goal, the Red Wings were in complete control of the game.
Late in the second frame, Zetterberg added another power play marker, taking a back-door pass from Jiri Hudler and spelling the end of Fleury's night with a shot from close range. Mathieu Garon took over in the Pittsburgh net.
Detroit's three power play goals tied an NHL Playoff record for most in one period, joining the Montreal Canadiens (1954 vs. Detroit, 1977 vs. Boston), New York Rangers (1972 vs. Bruins), New York Islanders (1980 vs. Philadelphia), and the Colorado Avalanche (1996 vs. Florida).
"This was a special victory for the Red Wings; special in terms of special teams," said NHL Insider Bob McKenzie. "Pittsburgh was winning that battle in the series but almost in one fell swoop, the Red Wings got the special team edge back in their game. The last thing the Penguins want is to have the Red Wings feeling comfortable on the power play."
Frustration started to boil over at that point as Sidney Crosby took a slashing penalty after taking a swing at Zetterberg's leg and then 20 second later, Talbot took another slashing minor after wacking Datsyuk on his sore foot. By game's end, the Penguins were assessed nine minor penalties and three 10-minute misconducts.
Some Red Wings players took exception to Talbot's targetting of Datsyuk but Red Wings head coach Mike Babcock downplayed the incident.
"I'm not going there," said Babcock after the game. "The bottom line is they're going to do what they can to win, we're going to do what we can."
TSN Hockey Insider Darren Dreger said the sense from the Red Wings dressing room following the game was that they're not worried about Talbot.
''This is a team that's focused on winning the Stanley Cup championship and not worried about the likes of Brooks Orpik suggesting that Henrik Zetterberg is tired and isn't playing well following Game 4,'' said Dreger. ''They're certainly not worried about Talbot targeting Datsyuk.''
As play continued in the third period, both teams seemed to play with one eye clearly focused on Game Six on Tuesday night.
"We have two days here to regroup and refocus, and we will," said Bylsma. "They're one ahead of us, and we've got to go home and use that energy of that home crowd to our advantage, and use Game 6 to draw even again."
The home team has won every game of the series so far and the visiting Penguins are looking to become just the fourth team in Stanley Cup history to overcome a 2-0 series deficit. The last time was 1971, when the Montreal Canadiens beat the Chicago Blackhawks after dropping Games 1 and 2 in the Windy City.
Of the 19 times the Stanley Cup Final has been tied after four games, the winner of Game 5 has gone on to win the series 14 of of those times.
Notes: Datsyuk made his series debut playing on Zetterberg's wing. Winger Ville Leino sat out to make room for the Hart Trophy candidate.