Sooner or later, the focus was going to get around to Sidney Crosby not scoring. It had too.
As well as Crosby was competing in the Stanley Cup final away from the puck - he and Henrik Zetterberg did an excellent job of knocking each other around for most of three games - in the end, the Pittsburgh Penguins needed some goals from Sid The Kid.
He knew it. They knew it. Crosby delivered, and now, suddenly, the Stanley Cup final is tied 2-2, with the momentum shifting towards Pittsburgh, as the series heads back to Detroit for Saturday's fifth game.
On a night when Evgeni Malkin stole the show offensively for the Penguins again, Crosby did his part as well.
In a three-goal second-period that turned the game around, Malkin set up Crosby for the Penguins' second-period go-ahead goal and then Crosby set up Tyler Kennedy for the insurance goal.
Pittsburgh had all the energy - young legs have a way of managing that. Detroit looked gassed. A longer-than-anticipated series against the Chicago Blackhawks, along with Pavel Datsyuk's ongoing absence, and all those 30-something entries on their birth certificates have made the defensively efficient Red Wings look like mere mortals, capable of egregious turnovers, just like everybody else in the NHL, when the pressure ramps up.
This was what Red Wings coach Mike Babcock was concerned about before the start of the series - that the tight turnaround in the scheduling would negatively impact his team. Detroit won the first two anyway, on home ice, but the schedule caught up to them on the road. The Red Wings just don't turn the puck over this many times. Their poise usually wins the day.
But Malkin and Crosby are, day-by-day, growing into their roles as young stars, flexing their muscles, finding ways to win. Crosby looked as if his inability to get a puck past Chris Osgood in the first three games was frustrating him at times, but he looked fine last night - staying with it, creating space for himself, whether he was playing against Zetterberg or not, in a nice compact 19-and-a-half minutes of work.
"Any time they're not going in, you just have to stick with it," said Crosby. "You don't want to change a lot. You just have to focus on getting chances. It's nice to see one go in."
Penguins' coach Dan Bylsma summed up Crosby's contributions this way: "His best skill is the skill to want to get better, the drive to get better, looking for ways to get better.
"You don't have to be around him long to see that him do that, one way or another every day - whether it's video or doing small little skill drills in practice or trying to recreate scenarios that he's going to see."
One of those scenarios came in the second period, after Jordan Staal's shorthanded goal tied the game at 2-2. Malkin and Crosby went in on a two-on-one. The Red Wings' Jonathan Ericsson went down to block Malkin's cross-ice pass and succeeded - for a second. But Malkin stuck with the play, collected the loose puck and slid it across to Crosby, who braked at just the right time, to get it on his forehand and tap it past Osgood.
Staal's goal woke up the crowd; Crosby's goal - and his subsequent play to set up Kennedy for the Penguins' fourth of the night - brought them all the way back in.
According to Babcock, Staal's shorthanded goal set his team back. "You talk about our penalty-killing (struggles)," said Babcock. "I really think our power-play sucked the energy right out of our team. They got energy from that shorthanded goal. They were on top of us - and we turned the puck over, in the next five minutes, I would say enough for a whole game."
Bylsma has only coached Crosby and Malkin for a short time, after taking over behind the Penguins bench in mid-season, but he said something the other day that was pertinent again last night. Only a handful of NHL players have the talent to make something out of nothing, and his team boasts two of them.
"When (Crosby) was younger, they had to tell him to stay away from the rink for a day when he needed a rest - because he always wanted to come and do more and do more," said Bylsma.
"He does that every day. That's the beauty of what he brings to our team and to the game. He isn't stopping until he knows he's the best he can be - and that ain't ever going to happen. It's going to be a continual process for him."
The process continued for Crosby in Game 4, where he and Malkin were factors in the game offensively and goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury turned in his steadiest game performance, after giving up a series of odd goals in the first two games. Now with the series tied 2-2, this is as close as Crosby's ever been to a Stanley Cup championship.
"When (Crosby's) goal went in tonight, my first thought was, 'Now you guys won't ask me the question,' " said Bylsma. "We know how well he's played. We know he's had scoring chances. We know he's been in and around the net the way he often is in these playoffs.
"To get the assist in Game 3; to get on the board again tonight, those are important. You need confidence. You need results. If people keep questioning you, it wears on you. Tonight was just an answer for him."Report Typo/Error