Pens Misread Wings at Their Own Peril

Tim KingCorrespondent IJune 8, 2009

DETROIT - JUNE 06:  Referees try to break up a fight between the Pittsburgh Penguins and the Detroit Red Wings during Game Five of the 2009 NHL Stanley Cup Finals at Joe Louis Arena on June 6, 2009 in Detroit, Michigan.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

(Pittsburgh, PA)—The Pittsburgh Penguins sit in their hotel rooms in Detroit this morning a victim of an optical illusion.  What they thought they and 17,000 others thought they saw on the ice at Mellon Arena last Thursday night turned out to be a passing moment or the best slight of hand this side of Penn & Teller.

What they thought they saw was a Detroit Red Wing team that was done.  Toast.  Kaput.  The Penguins young legs dropped three goals in just over five minutes on the champs in the second period and then spent the entire third period smashing into anything in a white sweater. 

The Wings looked and acted like an old team that had run out of gas.  Their expressionless faces on the bench in the final minutes of the game while the Pens toyed with the puck said "we're finished."

The Wings did nothing to combat that for the first 10 minutes of Game Five Saturday night. 

The young Penguins bottled the champs up in their own end with a relentless forecheck that could easily have turned the game into a rout were it not for a pair of brilliant saves from Chris Osgood on Ruslan Fedotenko and Evegeni Malkin and an uncalled holding penalty that prevented Fedotenko from burying a rebound at Osgood's left.

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The Pens inexperience killed them three minutes later.  Dan Cleary fluttered a knuckleball of a shot on a two-on-three break that knuckled past Marc-Andre Fleury and brought the roof of Joe Louis Arena down on the Pens collective heads.

One of the great unwritten rules of boxing is "don't let the champ get up off the mat."  The Penguins had the chance right in their hands to finish the deal in the first period Saturday night but let the Wings off the mat. 

The four goals that followed lead to a mental meltdown by the challengers that might have ripped any hope of victory out of their hands.  Score the first goal and the game is yours.  Yield the first goal on a horrible scoring chance and you let the champ survive the standing eight count. 

None of this is to say that the series is over.  Detroit has yet to prove it can play in Mellon Arena without the last line change.  In a series where the rule book has become a one page pamphlet anything and everything are still possible.

While the Stanley Cup will watch Game Six from the bowels from crumbling Mellon Arena it still stands an almost even chance of making one more road trip before its summer of fun.

What the above really says is that if the Penguins find themselves spending the summer asking themselves "what if" again they can point to a moment in Detroit on a Saturday night when they didn't finish what they started.