Staal’s goal starts Pens comeback, evens finals |

Staal’s goal starts Pens comeback, evens finals

PITTSBURGH – The Pittsburgh Penguins’ fresh legs and fast feet changed the Stanley Cup finals in a flash, and now a series that looked to be over is only getting started.

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 scoring run 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.

Tyler Kennedy also scored and Marc-Andre Fleury, with his second successive excellent game, made 37 saves. All the Penguins’ goal scorers are 22 or younger – Sid isn’t their only kid – and it may have made a big difference as the older Red Wings played their fourth game in six nights.

“It seemed like all their guys were really slumped over tired and looked like they were frustrated, really,” defenseman Brooks Orpik said. “When you see that you just kind of feed off of it.”

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 night after the series’ first two-day break. Game 7 would be June 12 in Detroit.

“It’s a race to four (wins) now,” Pittsburgh’s Pascal Dupuis said.

The Red Wings certainly lost all the races in Game 4, 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 scored – 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. I saw Lidstrom and Rafalski both kind of flat-footed,” Staal said. “I kind of just buried my head, went for it and kind of snuck it in.”

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.

“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, makes a strong move to the net like he can with his big body and scores a great goal for us … and kind of got us rolling.”

The Penguins killed 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 in 1993.

“They can really pass it,” Osgood said.

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 and Malkin 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 the compressed schedule is favoring the younger Penguins.

“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. His reaction?

“We’ve got to get some rest,” he said.

The Penguins probably would like to play immediately. They rallied to beat the Capitals two rounds ago after losing the first two in Washington, and they’re pointing to that comeback as reason for hope they can pull off this one.

“The last couple have been desperation (games) for us,” said Crosby, who helped lead the Penguins from 10th place in the Eastern Conference in mid-February into the playoffs. “It’s going to be like that all the way through.”

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.

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 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.

Notes: 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 each in three previous Game 4s. … Pittsburgh is 4-0 in Game 4s this spring.

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