From left, Niklas Kronwall, Jiri Hudler, Brad Stuart and Darren McCarty celebrate Hudler's third period goal. (John T. Greilick/The Detroit News)
PITTSBURGH -- Everything's so close now, close enough to see clearly. The games are close, the checking is close, and for the Red Wings, the ultimate goal draws ever closer.
Classically cool under the tightest pressure, while missing one of their best players, the Red Wings officially are doing whatever it takes to complete the task. They made all the little plays that turned into big plays Saturday night and edged the Penguins 2-1.
The Wings hold a 3-1 series stranglehold and the Stanley Cup now sits there, waiting to be seized as early as Monday night at Joe Louis Arena.
It's hard to imagine anything or anyone stopping the Wings now. The Penguins threw a final flurry at them, and again and again, the Wings made the clutch defensive plays, from star goalie Chris Osgood to star forward Henrik Zetterberg, both as good as ever.
Let's get this out of the way, too. It's time, finally, people stopped overlooking Osgood, who was superb in net, out-dueling the Penguins' Marc-Andre Fleury. He stuffed Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin several times, and poor Pascal Dupuis will see his chances in nightmares, with Osgood stopping him point-blank three times.
Tight? How about the Penguins' two-man power-play advantage for nearly a minute-and-a-half in the third period, with the Wings clutching a one-goal lead, with Osgood making saves, large and small.
Cool? How about Zetterberg during that power play, controlling the puck, making play after play. In one shrieking moment, Crosby stood all alone to Osgood's left, awaiting a pass, and just as the puck skittered toward him, Zetterberg swooped in and blocked Crosby's stick with his own.
"We did a ton of little things to win this game, blocking shots, everything," Osgood said. "On the 5-on-3, we didn't get flustered. They were penalties, we knew they were, so we had no choice but to kill 'em off. We weren't gonna yell and scream from the bench. We did what we needed to do."
That's it, right there: Doing what they need to do. There was no Tomas Holmstrom, out with a hamstring injury. There was noise in the Igloo and danger from the Penguins, who took a 1-0 lead barely three minutes into the game on a power-play goal by Marian Hossa, an unsettling start for the Wings.
And that was it for the Penguins, shut down by defense and shut out the rest of the way by Osgood. And no, the Wings need not apologize for interrupting the Sidney Crosby Show on NBC. As much as some crave the new and fresh, the Wings are bringing their old familiar fury, the look we've seen before.
We saw it in Zetterberg, who was angry at his performance in the Game 3 loss. He admitted he was miffed, something he rarely does, and then took it out on the Penguins. It was unrelenting defense by Zetterberg, a grinding effort that Mike Babcock called "fantastic."
"I felt pretty good, I had good legs," Zetterberg said. "We wanted to play good defense and I think we did that. And I think Pavel (Datsyuk) and (Dan) Cleary were tremendous too."
This was the composure that has become the Wings' signature. They didn't trail very long, with Nicklas Lidstrom's goal tying it. The winning goal, a nifty back-hander by Jiri Hudler early in the third period, was the result of smart, small plays, starting with Brad Stuart, who kept the bouncing puck in the zone, setting up Hudler.
"I was thinking, I shouldn't be here, I should be back playing defense," Hudler said, smiling. "It was kind of a lucky goal, but I'll take it."
One task remains
Oh, they're taking it, period by period, check by check. More and more, the Penguins and others are recognizing the overall talent of Zetterberg, the Wings' MVP of these playoffs. And it's nearly time to officially recognize how tough and unbreakable these Wings are in the tightest circumstances.
It was a surprise, in such a close game, the Penguins would get a 5-on-3. But what looked like a crushing turn for the Wings became a penalty-kill that was the ultimate crusher for the Penguins.
"I thought our battle levels got higher and higher as the game went along," Lidstrom said. "In the second half of the game, I thought we were quicker on pucks."
Now the Wings stand one victory from their fourth Cup in 11 years. It would be Lidstrom's fourth, but his first as captain. Asked about what now seems inevitable, Lidstrom was cool, cool as ever.
"It never gets old," he said. "But we know as a team we haven't won anything yet. Sure, you're excited about being in a position like this. This is what you play for all year long. This is where you want to be."
They're here because they know the way, and on this night, they found a way. It's so close now, they can feel it, and all that's left is to take it.
Kronwall levels Tyler Kennedy during the third period. (John T. Greilick/The Detroit News)
Kirk Maltby has words for Penguins superstar Sidney Crosby. (David Guralnick / The Detroit News)
More Bob Wojnowski
- The time is now for Red Wings; goalie Jimmy Howard could hold key
- Red Wings hitting Blackhawks like they mean it, grab series lead
- Once-grizzled Wings proving youth is served in postseason
- After a little rest, donít count Red Wings out yet
- Red Wings goalie Jimmy Howard is up for the challenge against Blackhawks
- Red Wings' steely resolve belies their youth; Blackhawks up next
- Wings-Ducks series has been good to the last gasp