Saturday's game day question from Pittsburgh: How can the Penguins maintain momentum heading into Game 4? Our experts weigh in.
Detroit coach Mike Babcock says he doesn't really understand momentum. And to be sure, it is an ethereal thing when it comes to the NHL playoffs. But let's assume the Pittsburgh Penguins are feeling better about themselves heading into Game 4 given their Game 3 win. Does that suggest they have momentum? Well, it will if they come over the boards a lot more inspired than they did in Game 3, when they were outshot 9-1 through the first 15-plus minutes.
They were fortunate to be tied 0-0 late in the first when Sidney Crosby gave the Pens their first goal of the series. In Game 4, scoring first will be crucial given that the two teams are a combined 23-1 when they score first in the postseason. Given the way the Red Wings can close down an opponent, the first goal is exponentially more important to Pittsburgh than to Detroit.
You can pretty much bet the farm Crosby will be on task, but the Pens' success in Game 4 will depend on the contributions of folks like Marian Hossa, who squandered a handful of glorious chances in Game 3. Both Ryan Malone and Evgeni Malkin were noticeably better in Game 3 after enduring miserable performances in Games 1 and 2 in Detroit. Malone has been a key member of a Penguins' penalty-killing unit that has denied the powerful Detroit power play on 17 of 19 opportunities in the series.
Malkin, meanwhile, showed a lot more energy in Game 3, but that'll have to translate into points if the Pens are to be successful.
Speaking of penalties, we know Penguins coach Michel Therrien has been on the obstruction bandwagon all series, but there is a wide discrepancy in the amount of time the teams have spent on the power play; the Wings enjoying 19 opportunities to just 11 for the Penguins.
The Red Wings' power play isn't going to stay dormant forever, so the Pens had best stay clear of the penalty box if they're going to even up this series.
First goal. First goal. First goal.
In these playoffs, when the Penguins score the first goal, they're a perfect 11-0. If the Penguins can score first in Game 4, the home crowd will be fully engaged for their heroes. More important, the Pens' bench will be fully confident the momentum of the series has truly swung to their side. They will be better able to settle into their game and will have the Wings back on their heels a bit.
The Penguins must again be smart when they chip the puck behind the Wings' defense. That means keeping it away from Chris Osgood and making sure to follow the chip with a chase. They have to move their feet and make those defenders turn and work. That's especially true when the Wings' more vulnerable defensemen -- Brad Stuart, Brett Lebda and Andreas Lilja -- are on the ice.
It shouldn't be hard for the Pittsburgh Penguins to get up for Game 4 -- this should be the most exciting time of their lives. But it's also desperation. You can't go down 3-1 in the series.
The Penguins got part of the job done winning Game 3, and it doesn't make sense to work your butt off in Game 3 only to lose Game 4. They will come out and play like the most desperate club on the planet in Game 4. They have to come out and set the tone early. They also have to score first.