PITTSBURGH - He may be the team’s ‘third center,’ but Jordan Staal proved his worth in more ways than one in a crucial series-extending 2-1 Pittsburgh victory in Game 6.
Staal, whose play in the post-season has elevated when it mattered most after a murky start, did more than just pump in the game’s first goal. Renowned for his penalty-killing and defensive reach, Staal blocked shots and cycled the puck endlessly alongside linemates Matt Cooke and Tyler Kennedy, stifling Detroit early and ultimately knotting the series.
That cycling was key to Pittsburgh’s success.
“Puck possession is huge in every game,” Staal said. “Tonight we didn’t give it up that often and we benefitted from that.”
Keeping the Red Wings from launching their vaunted counter-attack was also an aspect of the game Staal believes the Pens excelled in and not giving up a goal soon after scoring one – something Detroit had done to Pittsburgh several times in the series – was on the Pens’ radar.
“They do a great job coming back,” Staal noted. “Every (Pens) line that comes out next has to really focus.”
Having the Stanley Cup in the building – and knowing only the Wings could lift it at the time – was also an obvious motivating factor.
“It was a short summer last year, but it felt like a long summer,” Staal said. “We didn’t want that happening again.”
In contributing both Penguins goals on a night where the stars on both teams essentially cancelled each other out (grinder Kris Draper had his first of the playoffs for Detroit’s only marker), the Staal-Cooke-Kennedy line gave the Pens just what they needed.
“Everyone has to pull the rope,” Kennedy said. “That’s going to help us win.”
It was Kennedy’s bulldog rush on Wings goalie Chris Osgood that netted the clincher for Pittsburgh, but obviously a thwarted last-second Detroit scramble was just as killer.
On a night when the Penguins consistently beat the Wings to the puck, forced the champs into uncharacteristic turnovers and bruised them whenever the occasion arose, it’s almost ironic the Wings were not granted a power play until the third period.
Were the Wings jobbed? Far from it. Both sides played with an edge and in a strict world could have been called for more, but the Wings did not earn the right to draw penalties. Usually Detroit’s speed and skill causes minors for the other team, but Pittsburgh was the team on its game this time and keyed in on playing disciplined.
“It was huge,” Kennedy said of his team’s relatively clean rap sheet. “They have a great power play and you don’t want to give them the momentum there.”
So it was the scrappiest of Pens that won the day for Pittsburgh, but how will Game 7 play out? Certainly if the boys in black and gold are worried about facing down the Joe Louis faithful again, they’re not showing it.
“We have faith,” Kennedy said. “We won in their building earlier in the season.”
Winger Ruslan Fedotenko, who won a Stanley Cup with Tampa Bay in 2004, was pretty pragmatic when asked about facing down a Game 7 with everything on the line.
“You’re either the winner or the loser,” he said. “Nothing else.”
THN Shootout: Pens force Game 7
PRODUCER: TED COOPER
THN is on the road following the Stanley Cup final and will file daily reports until a champion is crowned. To read other entries, click HERE. Also, check out THN.com's regular video roundtable, the THN.com Shootout for updates from both Detroit and Pittsburgh.
Ryan Kennedy is a writer and copy editor for The Hockey News magazine, the co-author of the book Hockey's Young Guns and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog appears Mondays and Wednesdays, his column - The Straight Edge - every Friday, and his prospect feature, The Hot List appears Thursdays.
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