Well, that one didn’t go the way we would have liked. Honestly, if the score was closer I wouldn’t have been so disappointed, but when it’s 4-1 when the final whistle sounds, it’s all just kind of a let down. Obviously, Pittsburgh wanted this one badly to seal up their playoff spot to avoid any drama on Saturday. Here’s what happened:
The Penguins were in control early, aided in part by an early Frk penalty, but can we be real? Nobody wants to hear about that. Detroit winning out this season is basically an inevitability, so let’s skip to the good stuff! Five minutes into the period, Jake Guentzel interfered with Mantha, so the Wings got the man advantage. Detroit struggled to get set up in the early goings of the power play, but with the about 30 seconds remaining, the Wings established control in the zone, cycling the puck along the boards to Murray’s right. Hronek ended up getting a few whacks at the puck as he repeatedly got possession from the cycle; on his second try, Matt Puempel had a nifty little deflection high to score his first as a Red Wing! 1-0 Red Wings!! (Hirose picked up a point on that one, for those counting at home. Kuffner was on the ice doing good work, too.)
Puempel's first as a Red Wing. pic.twitter.com/VOP2ycNa83— Detroit Red Wings (@DetroitRedWings) April 4, 2019
Frk also got a great breakaway a few minutes later thanks to a broken stick in the hands of a defending Penguin but couldn’t quite bury it. Mantha nearly gobbled up the rebound, but Murray was just a little too fast with the glove to seal it up.
About a minute later the Wings had a sloppy clear for maybe the fourth time in the young game, and the Pens regained possession and presence in the zone quickly. But in the chaos of sliding pucks going every which way, Crosby sent a pass to Olli Maata, who took the puck low behind the net and popped it up to Guentzel, who tapped it in for the easy goal on Howard, 1-1 Tie game.
HUGE SAVE BY HOWARD, AND THEN ANOTHER ONE! One of Howie’s best sequences of the season featured him making a sprawling save with his right leg on a sharp angle shot from his left, then a splaying save again to his right and his rebound kicked out perfectly to a waiting Penguin in the high slot.
Man oh man, most of the play in this period was in front of Howard, though. Detroit got some good opportunities, particularly off the stretch pass. What didn’t help matters was an errant high stick that sent Mantha to the box with three minutes left in the period.
The PK was looking good until Helm got a little discombobulated with his positioning which caused all the Wings to adjust. In the confusion Crosby tried a cross-crease pass to Phil-the-Thrill, but Detroit got, like, all five of their sticks in the way. This turned into a serious of funky rebounds, however, and Crosby essentially ended up poking the puck out from underneath Howard to give Kessel the easy tap-in to make it 2-1 Penguins.
Score: 2-1 Penguins
Shots: 18-7 Penguins
Stand Ups: Howard, Howard, and Howard.
The Pens were dominant at the end of the first period, but the Wings adjusted and forced the Pens into a more run-and-gun style game, which was fun and terrifying. Basically the total opposite of the Wings during the last lockout. Remember that Cleary-Datsyuk-Abdelkader line? Total 180 since then.
Bertuzzi had a real strong start to the period, and he’s been turning into one of my favorite Wings this year. Dude just plays physical, but he doesn’t let physicality define his game. In one sequence he knocked a Pen off the puck to force the zone entry, then incited a second turn-over and fired away a slapper for the scoring opportunity that Mantha might have been able to bury on the rebound had Murray not covered the puck quite so fast.
I’ll be honest, at this point of the game I felt quite lazy, not because nothing was going on, but because it was easy to just sit back and watch some good quality hockey. The Wings carried a slight edge in shots for the period and the play even tilted ever so slightly in their direction. The Pens had some nice movement in front of Howard and got a real good chance on a 3-on-2, but Larkin, Bertuzzi, and Mantha got the same pleasure against Murray moments later. The game’s rhythm got disrupted when Bertuzzi and Jack Johnson high-sticked each other.
So of course seconds later Kessel scores right of the draw. 3-1 Penguins. Fiddle sticks.
Hornquist nearly made it 4-1 on a break away after he scooped the puck away from the neutral zone boards, but Howard made two brilliant saves to stop the bleeding.
The Wings demonstrated good poise and confidence in the closing minutes and showed dominance in Pittsburgh, but not enough time remained to make anything of it, so the Wings went into the locker room needing a plan to score at least two unanswered in the next 20.
Score: 3-1 Penguins
Shots: 36-20 Penguins
Stand Ups: Howard, Bertuzzi, and Hronek
Detroit started the first two minutes with some real furious shifts by the Larkin and Athanasiou lines, just the way we like to see it! Wings dominating Penguins (remembers tearfully when that domination lasted a game rather than a shift.)
Larkin ended up going to the box though for tripping to further cement his lead in both points and penalties for Detroit. Pittsburgh got one grade-A opportunity, but Howard stood tall and the skaters carried things the rest of the way.
I stepped out of the room for a commercial and when I came back Athanasiou got so many minutes for unsportmanlike conduct that Hirose had to sit, too, and I’m not sure why, but don’t worry, it’s fine, Phil Kessel just rattled one off the cross bar and Crosby just plowed the rebound into the net by taking up position on Helm. I’m really not a Helm-basher, but the dude had a rough night. 4-1 Penguins.
Detroit got its own power play (Rust, slashing) to try narrowing the deficit, and they got some real good looks out there, but nothing more than that.Really wanted to see one there, just to feel better about a loss. When its 4-1 it really starts to sting.
Mick and Ken made a lot of noise about losing face offs; so much so that I didn’t want to add anything. But as the game wound down it started to get really lame watching the Wings lose basically every draw. But on a positive note, Ryan Kuffner nearly had his first goal in the waning minutes of the period! Bar down and out of the net, freakin’ tragedy. Made me sad. Hronek and Puempel got one last attempt, but Puempel couldn’t bury it, so we’ll wrap this one up and look toward the Buffalo game on Saturday.
Score: 4-1 Penguins
Shots: 47-34 (!) Penguins
Stand Ups: Howard and Hronek