Shutout and Shut Up: Red Wings Show Penguins What Champions are Made Of

Matt Hutter@mahutter12Analyst IJune 7, 2009

DETROIT - JUNE 06:  Dan Cleary #11 of the Detroit Red Wings celebrates his goal against the Pittsburgh Penguins with Nicklas Lidstrom #5, Brian Rafalski #28, Henrik Zetterberg #40 and Pavel Datsyuk #13 during Game Five of the 2009 NHL Stanley Cup Finals at Joe Louis Arena on June 6, 2009 in Detroit, Michigan.  (Photo by Claus Andersen/Getty Images)

In the middle of the bloody battle between Uma Thurman and Lucy Liu's gang of assassins in Kill Bill Vol. 1, Uma Thurman takes a breath as she thinks she's emerged the victor.

As more attackers enter the scene, Liu asks her: "You didn't think it would be that easy did you"?

To which Thurman responds, "You know, for a second there, yeah, I kinda did."

Assume Liu represents the Red Wings and Thurman the Penguins after Game Five of the Stanley Cup Finals and you'll see where I'm going with this.

The Penguins had a lot of swagger coming into Game Five.

A pair of home wins, the last of which a particularly good thumping of a fatigued Wings team, had given the Pens the belief that they'd gotten the better of their opponent.

Several players spoke about the Wings bickering with each other on the bench after Jordan Stall scored a short-handed goal to even the score in Game Four.

The knew, or so they said, that the Wings were frustrated.

Pre-game comments about feeding off that Game Four win and taking the series back to Pittsburgh for a chance to win the Cup on home ice suggested that the Penguins were a team in command of their own destiny and well prepared to fulfill it.

You didn't think it would be that easy did you?

I admit that I thought the Pens had the edge going into this game.

Evgeni Malkin and Sydney Crosby both had great performances in Game Four and Marc-Andre Fleury seemed to be poised to take over the goalie battle.

Despite thinking the Wings still had a great chance to win, I had a sneaking feeling that the Pens might just pull this one out.

For the first few minutes of Game Five, it looked as if that feeling was right.

The Pens came out flying and put Detroit back on their heels quickly, forcing Detroit goalie Chris Osgood to make a few tricky saves early on.

The way they were playing, you could all but count on them getting the game's first goal.

They got a great chance when Nicklas Kronwall took a penalty and gave the Detroit penalty-killers another chance to stink on ice by giving Pittsburgh their minimum mandatory power play goal.

They didn't.

Pittsburgh didn't even have a shot on goal on that power play.

The Wings used this rare successful penalty-kill as apparent inspiration and slowly started to take the game over.

A much missed Pavel Datsyuk, playing his first game of the series after sitting out with a foot injury for nearly three weeks, gained the Penguin's blue line, passed the puck to Dan Cleary who beat Fleury high glove.

This was at 13:32 of the first period.

I doubt anyone on the Penguins' bench even remotely imagined that Cleary had just scored the game winner.

Detroit took less than two minutes to score in the second period.

Down 0-2 in the game, the Penguins decided that the best response was to take a penalty.  Then another, and another...

A slash, an elbow, a rough and then a couple more slashes by the Penguins yielded three power play goals for Detroit and sent Pittsburgh into the second intermission facing a 5-0 deficit.

Some penalties are calculated risks.

You might interfere with a player breaking in on your goalie to negate a scoring chance.

You could stop a breakaway with a hook.

Some coaches might even call these "good penalties" depending on the situation.

But typically, slashes and elbows are borne of frustration, not competition and the Penguins were quite obviously frustrated.

The Penguins seemed to come into Game Five with a sense that this was one they were going to win, maybe even deserved to win.

After all, they had apparently got the defending champs to start snapping at each other on the bench the last game, surely they had gotten in their heads, right?

You know, for a second there, yeah, I kinda did.

Some would say that the true character of a team comes out when facing adversity rather than success.

The Wings were coming off two consecutive losses and could not find their legs in the beginning of Game Five.

They were facing adversity and did what they normally do in that situation, they won.

In the most important game they've played so far in the playoffs, the Penguins faced adversity and responded with stupid penalties and unfocused play. 

I'm not suggesting the Penguins are a stupid, unfocused team; they're not.

However, they did not respond the way a championship team responds.  Like a team who knows that, most of the time, you will find your best game when you need it in the worst way.

For a team as talented and skilled as the Penguins, an 0-2 hole is not insurmountable by any stretch.

They could have maintained their focus and discipline and come back to tie this game.

Instead they gave the Red Wings an opportunity to show them exactly how a championship team plays a big game.

The Penguins also learned the same lesson the Wings have taught many of their opponents in these playoffs (yes, I'm looking at you Anaheim): no amount of pushing, punching, slashing or roughing is going to intimidate the Detroit Red Wings.

The Penguins showed their age in this game.

They showed that, perhaps, though more experienced than last year, they're not quite ready to assume the role as the league's best team.

The Penguins have one more chance to have, well, one more chance to win the Stanley Cup.

But this loss is a big one.

This was a win they needed and maybe even thought they would get.

But no, it isn't going to be that easy.

The Penguins will have to remember that it was their skill and discipline that has gotten them this far if they have any chance of pushing this series to seven games.

They also have to hope that Detroit will somehow forget how to do what it does best—win.


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