By Allan Muir, SI.com
For just a second, the red light went on.
In the midst of a one minute and 26 second two-man advantage for the Penguins, Sergei Gonchar's blast from the top of the circle fooled the NHL's goal judge, who lit the lamp, sending a good number of the 17,000 fans into paroxysms of joy at the prospect of a late game-tying goal.
Only problem? The puck didn't fool Detroit's Chris Osgood, and it certainly didn't go into the net. In fact, after giving up the opening marker on Marian Hossa's nifty display of netside dexterity just 2:51 into the contest, Osgood stopped the next 21 shots that came his way, leading the Red Wings to a 2-1 win and a 3-1 chokehold on the series.
Game 4 was another captivating contest, a thriller from beginning to end that featured the first lead change of the finals, the first two-man advantage, and the first loss by a team that opened the scoring. It also marked the first loss at Mellon Arena for the Pens since they were quelled in a shootout by the Sharks on Feb. 24.
Given the end result, it is no surprise that none of those firsts reflected positively on the home side. But when this series ends, the Penguins will rue none of those things so much as their inability to make more of a surprisingly undisciplined performance from the Red Wings.
While Hossa's goal came on an early man advantage created when Dallas Drake needlessly crosschecked Ryan Whitney behind the Pittsburgh net, Detroit's penalty killers frustrated the Pens through the remaining five chances. And none were more decisive than that five-on-three midway through the third.
The sequence started with a marginal hooking call on Kirk Maltby at 9:36 of the third. Sidney Crosby, who was all around the play Saturday night but unable to create the space he did in Game 3, drew the second penalty on Andreas Lilja when he tried to power through a pair of Detroit defenders just 34 seconds later.
With Detroit holding a 2-1 lead courtesy of Nick Lidstrom's tying effort late in the first and Jiri Hudler's go-ahead goal early in the third, the stage was set for Pittsburgh's equalizer. But when it was over, the Pens had failed to muster a single shot. They fired it wide twice, had one shot blocked, and gave the biscuit away to the game's most dangerous player, Henrik Zetterberg, who created a nifty scoring chance reminiscent of his pair of shorties against the Stars.
The futility provided a perfect illustration of two constants in the series: Detroit's ability to shut down the passing lines on the penalty kill and the inability of the Penguins to adapt by simplifying their approach. Consider it the advantage of experience over youth.
Of course, it might not have mattered if they had altered their attack, so masterful and positionally sound were the Wings. Leading the charge was Zetterberg, who authored a shift every bit as dramatic as Brooks Orpik's four-hitter in Game 3. The presumptive Conn Smythe winner -- and yes, it's time to start thinking in those terms -- buffed his credentials with a game-saving effort when he nixed Pittsburgh's best opportunity. After putting pressure on the puck at the point, he spotted Crosby alone to the left of Osgood anticipating a pass. It arrived, but a fraction of a second after Zetterberg swooped in to eliminate his stick and negate what would have been an easy tap-in.
And that was pretty much the ball game. The Penguins generated just three shots in the final eight minutes, only one after Marc-Andre Fleury -- who offered up another impressive performance, stopping 28 Detroit chances -- was pulled in the game's final minute. And when Osgood snapped out his right pad to stymie Malkin's point-blank re-direct, it was church for the home side ... in this game and, likely, the series.
In the history of the Cup finals, only one team, the 1942 Maple Leafs, has come back from a 3-1 deficit. Considering how many players on the Penguins are firing blanks -- Malkin and Petr Sykora, in particular -- the chances of starting that comeback Monday night don't look any better than the odds. In eight home games in this postseason, Osgood has allowed just eight goals.
To have any hope at all, they'll have to find answers for their impotent power play. They certainly can't do anything about the experience gap.