Location must really mean everything. Because the Detroit Red Wings team we watched in Game 3 and 4 of the 2009 Stanley Cup final in Pittsburgh did not totally resemble the club that won the first two games on home ice.
And now we have a series — a tied one heading into Saturday night’s Game 5 at Joe Louis Arena.
In addition to a leaky penalty kill, the defending champion Red Wings now have an ineffective power play, as last night’s 0-for-4 in the 4-2 loss dropped the Detroit man-advantage to 1-for-10 for the series. Not only couldn’t the Wings put the game away on the power play when they led, 2-1, in the second period, but they let Jordan Staal break through for a shorthanded goal that turned the game in Pittsburgh’s favor.
Staal made Brian Rafalski look like one of those actresses that used to get tied to the train tracks in the old movies, but there was no “white knight” around to save him or the Wings. After Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin worked their magic on a 3-on-2 a couple minutes later, the Pens had control of the game.
Detroit blamed itself for some shoddy defensive play, but obviously being on home ice reminded the high-caliber Pens players how they’re supposed to play. We won’t know if that will translate to Motown until Saturday. The Wings might have a different look, as — stop me if you heard this before — Pavel Datsyuk could finally be back in the lineup. Adding the Selke finalist, and playing on home ice where they can go back to getting the matchups they want, could make the Wings world-beaters again. But Detroit’s going to need better play from its back end. Head coach Mike Babcock even juggled his pairs in the third period to try to get better play and the Wings kept the Pens within arms reach. After scoring the go-ahead goal in the first, Brad Stuart struggled. And Nicklas Kronwall was a non-factor most of the night.
So far, home-ice advantage has been the difference-maker in this series. However, the Wings can’t count on that winning them the pivotal fifth game. It could be tighten up or play catch-up for Detroit in Game 5.