PITTSBURGH (AP)—The Stanley Cup finals won’t duplicate last year’s, and a momentum-swinging period by the Pittsburgh Penguins put in doubt whether there will be a repeat champion.
Jordan Staal’s short-handed goal during back-to-back Detroit power plays started Pittsburgh’s comeback, and the Penguins scored three goals in less than 6 minutes of the second period Thursday night to win 4-2 and tie the series at 2.
Evgeni Malkin, enjoying the best postseason since Wayne Gretzky’s in 1993, and Sidney Crosby had a goal and an assist each to help rally the Penguins from a 2-1 deficit a year to the day Detroit raised the Stanley Cup in Pittsburgh by winning Game 6.
Until Game 4, the finals followed the same pattern as last year’s: Detroit won the first two at home, then dropped Game 3 in Pittsburgh. But the Red Wings couldn’t follow up their 2-1 road victory in Game 4 of last year, one decided largely when they killed off a lengthy Pittsburgh 5-on-3 advantage, and now these finals are the best-of-three.
Game 5 is Saturday night in Detroit, with Game 6 in Pittsburgh on Tuesday after the series’ first two-day break.
“It’s a race to four (wins) now,” Pittsburgh’s Pascal Dupuis said.
The Red Wings were done in by a bad second period and dreadful special teams. Pittsburgh has converted on 4 of 9 power plays, and this game swung when the Penguins got a goal—and the Red Wings didn’t—during 3:59 of continuous Detroit power-play time. Detroit was 0 for 4 with the man advantage.
With Detroit up 2-1 following goals by Darren Helm and Brad Stuart less than 3 minutes apart to end the first and start the second, Staal—who had only two goals in 20 playoff games—got loose after Max Talbot’s up-ice pass.
The 6-foot-4 Staal used his lengthy stride to thread defenseman Nicklas Lidstrom and Brian Rafalski and beat Chris Osgood at 8:35 of the second. Staal had a record-tying seven short-handed goals as an 18-year-old rookie in 2006-07, but had only one since.
“Max made a great play … and I lowered my head and went for it,” Staal said.
Staal’s goal instantly changed a major opportunity by Detroit to seize control not only of the game but the series into a tie game, and the 17,132 jammed into a suddenly rocking Mellon Arena sensed how big the play might be. And they were right.
“That was a big momentum changer for us,” Talbot said. “The building was so loud, it gave us a lot of emotion.”
Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said, “They have a chance to go up 3-1, but Jordan speeds up ice … and kind of got us rolling.”
The Penguins finished off killing the second power play and, less than a minute later, Crosby and Malkin—their signature stars—worked a 2-on-1 rush for Crosby’s 15th of the playoffs and 30th point. With 35 points, Malkin has more than any player since Gretzky had 40 in 1993.
Kennedy, a Staal linemate who had no goals in five games, finished it off with Pittsburgh’s third goal in a span of 5:37 by scoring off two quick passes by Crosby and Chris Kunitz. Kennedy won the race to a loose puck with Henrik Zetterberg, who may be wearying from shadowing Crosby shift after shift.
“They had some 3-on-2s and 2-on-1s, and we can’t do that against them because they’re too skilled,” Zetterberg said.
On the Detroit bench, a sour-faced Mike Babcock had the look of a coach wondering if four games in six nights for his tiring Red Wings might have favored the younger Penguins. All four Pittsburgh goals came from players who are 22 or younger.
“We were playing all right, but the power play hurt us for sure,” Babcock said. “It sucked the life out of us.”
Before Pittsburgh scored eight goals in two games at home, Osgood had allowed a goal or less in eight of 18 playoff games.
The Penguins know a 2-0 deficit doesn’t mean certain defeat, although only one of 32 teams has won the finals after losing the first two on the road. They rallied to beat the Capitals two rounds ago after losing the first two in Washington, and they’ve pointed to that comeback as reason for hope they could pull this one off.
“The last couple have been desperation (games) for us,” Crosby said.
The Red Wings had a letdown a few minutes before the start when Hart Trophy finalist Pavel Datsyuk, out for six games with an injured foot, skated in the pregame warmups but decided he couldn’t play. The Wings were optimistic the day before he might play, with Datsyuk joking he had was eager to return because he was drinking too much beer while sitting out.
Then, with only 1:12 gone, the Red Wings did what Babcock said they couldn’t do with an ailing penalty kill by taking take an unnecessary penalty. Niklas Kronwall tripped Malkin, and Malkin took advantage by scoring with only 2:39 gone, with Staal assisting.
Malkin is trying to become the first player since the Penguins’ Mario Lemieux in 1992 to lead the NHL in regular season and playoff scoring.
Detroit tied it with 1:41 left in the period. Helm stole Rob Scuderi’s pass out of the corner and beat Fleury inside the far post from the right faceoff circle dot.
The Red Wings’ 44-52 record in Game 4s is easily their worst of any playoff game. .. Detroit F Kris Draper returned from a groin injury, with rookie Justin Abdelkader sitting out despite scoring goals in each of the first two games. … Detroit F Marian Hossa didn’t score after having two goals in each of his three previous Game 4s this spring. … Pittsburgh is 4-0 in Game 4s this spring.