Stanley Cup Finals – Power Plays Give Penguins a Game 3 Victory
The Pittsburgh Penguins finally rallied together on Tuesday. Game 3 of their series against the Detroit Red Wings was a crucial one; in a startling repeat of last year’s Stanley Cup playoffs, the Penguins began this year’s playoffs by losing the first two games of the series. After such a shoddy performance, speculation grew that the Wings would sweep their ill-fated rivals and claim what would be their fifth Stanley Cup since 1997.
But, again shadowing last year’s final series, the Penguins managed to take Game 3, 4-2.
The win came as something of a shock. Not only were the Penguins up against one of the NHL’s strongest teams (the Red Wings have boasted an incredible regular season and an even better postseason), but Pittsburgh was feeble on the ice in the first two periods.
Granted, Penguins center Max Talbot did score the first point, his fifth in the postseason. However, in the nearly 11 minutes that followed, the Penguins were left watching the Red Wings score two goals – the first by Henrik Zetterburg and the second by Johan Franzen – before they shot again. Fortunately, the shot – by Kris Letang on a power play – gave them their second point and tied the game. Although neither team scored in the second period, the Penguins made only 4 shots against the Wings’ 14. Overall, the Penguins were outshot 26-11 in the first two periods.
It wasn’t until the third period that the Penguins came out fighting on the ice.
It was a combination of luck and skill that finally gave the Penguins their victory. They were able to locate the colossal Wings’ Achilles heel: the penalty kill.
Although the Wings may be juggernauts in almost every other arena, they round out the bottom of the list for the NHL playoff’s penalty killing statistics, ranking 14th out of 16 teams with a dismal 71.4% penalty kill rate. Of 63 penalty kills in the playoffs, the Wings have given up 18. It is a trend that began in the regular season, where the Wings were ranked 25th with just above 78%.
The Penguins were able to capitalize on this weakness. Of three power play chances given to them in Game 3, the Penguins were able to score twice. Their second power play point came just over 10 minutes into the third.
While the Wings’ Jonathon Ericsson was off the ice for interfering with Matt Cooke, Pittsburgh was making up for its abysmal shooting in the first two periods with nine consecutive shots. With Sidney Crosby and Bill Guerin screening Wings netminder Chris Osgood, Evgenie Malkin passed the puck to Sergei Gonchar, who slapped it from center past Osgood.
It was the point that gave the Penguins a lead, and ultimately, a victory.
“The power play [by Gonchar] was an unbelievable job by a handful of guys out there,” Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said, “keeping the play alive and giving Gonch a chance.”
“At that point,” Wings coach Mike Babcock granted, “they took over. They got the power play in the third and we didn’t.”
It is on power plays that the Penguins need to stake their advantage. With 21.4%, Pittsburgh is ranked at 6th in the playoffs. It is only during power plays that Penguins star Sidney Crosby is given any space to move. (Crosby has yet to score in the series, and thus far claims only one assist.)
If Marc Andre-Fleury can keep up his Game 3 performance – he made 27 saves on Tuesday – and Detroit is left sitting in the penalty box, the Penguins might have a chance.
Game 4 is Thursday.