June 5, 2009 at 2:22 pm

Bob Wojnowski

Red Wings need more firepower to hold off Penguins

Red Wings goalie Chris Osgood is now 5-5 in playoff games when he allows three or more goals. (Daniel Mears / The Detroit News)

Pittsburgh

Again and again, the Penguins attacked, skating in swarms, rushing the net. And for the first time all series, the Red Wings buckled.

And now, the Wings look strangely vulnerable. Full danger has arrived, clamped to the backs of Penguins stars Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby, who are finding more and more room to roam. The Wings were backing up, even frazzled at times, and they have some issues that aren't going away.

One issue is that the Penguins are as skilled and swift as advertised, and it was all on display in their 4-2 victory Thursday night at Mellon Arena, which tied the Stanley Cup Finals at 2-2.

The Wings can match almost any team's firepower, but they're having a harder time doing it without star Pavel Datsyuk. And as these games are progressing, they're having a harder time keeping up with the young Penguins. After a decent start, the Wings looked weary, playing their fifth game in eight nights.

Heavy minutes for Henrik Zetterberg and Nicklas Lidstrom are piling up, more pronounced without Datsyuk, who skated in warmups but was out for the seventh straight game with an apparent foot injury. The Wings aren't buying the fatigue angle, and the truth is, a 2-2 tie between these teams is about right.

But in a stunning stretch of the second period, when the Penguins scored three goals to seize command, the Wings were careless with the puck and slow to recover. They must recover quickly now, with Game 5 on Saturday night at Joe Louis Arena.

"They were coming after us real hard, and we didn't show enough poise," captain Nicklas Lidstrom said. "Especially against a talented team like that, we have to cut down on our mistakes."

'Slowly taking over'

The surge began with a short-handed goal by Jordan Staal and it ended less than six minutes later, when a 2-1 Detroit lead suddenly was a 4-2 deficit. It turned a game. The Wings have to make sure it doesn't turn a series.

A reasonable person would say a Penguins assault on Chris Osgood was due, as Malkin and Crosby each scored. The Penguins took the lead when Malkin and Crosby couldn't be stopped on a two-on-one break, even when defenseman Jonathan Ericsson actually stopped them with a sprawling block. Malkin just picked up the puck again and slid it to Crosby for the easy tap and a 3-2 lead.

The Wings settled down and had some chances in the third period, but Marc-Andre Fleury is getting stronger, and so are the Penguins. Again, that reasonable person would point out each team won its home games, and the Wings still have home-ice advantage.

A concerned person (oh, they're understandably out there) would suggest the Penguins are slowly taking over. I'm not ready to buy that, but I am ready to say it one more time: The Wings need Datsyuk to play, and they need Marian Hossa to score.

Hossa is still scoreless against his former team, although that can change quickly. It certainly changed quickly for Crosby, who was scoreless before Game 4. And then he and Malkin decided to conduct a skating exhibition. Malkin has 35 points in these playoffs, most by an NHL player in more than 16 years. Crosby isn't far behind with 31.

"We did it to ourselves," Osgood said. "When you give up odd-man rushes to those guys, they're gonna beat you. Crosby's a great player, and Malkin's playing awesome."

'We need to get rested'

The game began with a letdown for the Wings as Datsyuk, who skated hard in the morning, couldn't go. It seems the closer he gets to returning, the tougher it is, and it's fair to wonder if this is more than a simple foot injury. I bet there's a sense, as long as the Wings aren't trailing in the series, not to take a huge risk. Of course, not taking a risk might be a risk.

This series is tight, and there are no surprises. For instance, the worst-kept secret: The Wings' penalty-kill has been awful.

The Penguins scored on the power play 2:39 into the game, when Malkin banged in a rebound. These games have been a series of attacks and counter-attacks, with both teams pouncing on the slightest miscues. And in this one, the Wings made way more miscues.

The Penguins said they think they're wearing down the Wings, and when you're missing a player as valuable as Datsyuk, that is an issue.

"Sometimes we can read too much into the energy level because when one team gets going, they usually have more energy," Babcock said. "And I thought that's what happened. They had more energy than us. We need to get rested."

The Wings looked fresh early, out-shooting the Penguins 19-11 in the first period. That was familiar. But you know what's becoming increasingly, disturbingly familiar? Repeated dangerous rushes by the Penguins.

At times, the Penguins were electric and the Wings were reeling, as Malkin got loose on breakaways and partial breakaways. It was a breath-taking show, and now, the Wings are left to desperately catch their breaths.

bob.wojnowski@detnews.com">bob.wojnowski@detnews.com

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