PITTSBURGH -- The notion that the reigning Stanley Cup champions lost their composure in Thursday night's 4-2 Game 4 loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins wasn't debatable, at least among the players. The debate came when trying to assess how rattled the Detroit Red Wings truly were as the Finals were knotted up 2-2.
Like, for example, the gossip in the postgame interviews that the Big Red Wing Machine was bickering on the ice; an assertion denied by both coach Mike Babcock and captain Nicklas Lidstrom.
"I don't think we were sniping at each other," Lidstrom said. "I think we lost a little bit [of composure]. But they gained a lot of momentum by getting that goal."
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"That goal" was a reference to Jordan Staal's pivotal short-handed tally in the second period that turned the game in Pittsburgh's favor -- coach Dan Bylsma said it "changed the complexion of the game" -- and underscored the continuing struggles of the Red Wings' special teams, which failed to tally on the power play and surrendered a power-play goal to Evgeni Malkin in the first.
The Red Wings were credited with six giveaways and the Penguins had six takeaways, but the numbers don't explain how uncharacteristically sloppy the Wings were in all three zones. The turnovers short-circuited the offense and gave Pittsburgh several great chances.
"Yeah, I guess they did," said winger Mikael Samuelsson. "When you're out there, actually, you don't really see what's going on."
Lidstrom said the sloppy play was a critical factor in the loss.
"We have to cut down on the turnovers," he said. "When we get the puck in deep and we can work the D down low, we're getting some chances. But when we turn the puck over in the neutral zone, they're quick the other way."
Babcock was asked about fatigue for his Wings, playing their fourth game in six nights. He said Zetterberg and Johan Franzen didn't "have as much jump" as they had in other games.
Lidstrom didn't think Zetterberg was wiped out from chasing Sidney Crosby around for four games. "I talked to him the other day, and he said he felt fine. Lot of minutes, but he still had the legs going last game. He's in great shape," Lidstrom said.
Babcock said that the Penguins' momentum may have made the Wings look more haggard than they were.
"Sometimes we can read too much into the energy level just because when one team gets going, they usually have more energy than the other team. And I thought that's what happened," said Babcock.
3. The special teams mess
Malkin's power-play goal, Staal's shortie and the Wings' inability to put a scare in anyone on the power play (despite seven shots in 6:09 of power play time) combined to produce a Penguins victory in Game 4, according to Zetterberg, who said special teams were the difference.
"We got an opportunity when it was 2-1, and they score and it's a tie game," he said. "Huge momentum swing. And then they score another one right after that."
Lidstrom said it's tough to pinpoint exactly why Detroit can't find its stride on special teams, especially in that chaotic second period. "Tension at the wrong time, stepping up at the wrong time," he said. "We just had some bad timing on some of those goals."
4. No Datsyuk
Pavel Datsyuk, the Hart Trophy finalist who has yet to see action in the Finals, took the warm-up skate but was scratched before Game 4. Babcock said the Wings athletic therapist texted him in the afternoon to say he didn't think Datsyuk would go; and despite strong indications earlier in the day that he'd play, Datsyuk was out again.
Samuelsson said the late scratch didn't affect the team: "We've won without him before. It's not the end of the world."
But clearly, Datsyuk's absence is starting to be apparent in the way the Wings have played on special teams and in their sloppiness with puck possession.
Zetterberg is eager to get Datsyuk back. "It would be a huge boost for us. He's one of the best in the league," he said. "He skated yesterday, he skated a little today. Definitely, he wasn't ready or else he would have played."
Chris Osgood, however, reiterated that even if Datsyuk plays in Game 5 back in Detroit, he's not a cure-all.
"I have no idea if he's coming back or not. You always hear different things ... hopefully he will be. I don't want to speak for Pavel. I can only say I hope he's coming back," he said.
"We don't think that Pav's coming back as a knight in shining armor to save us."
5. Finally, if you haven't noticed, the Penguins are a pretty darn good hockey team.
Osgood made sure, on several occasions, to state the obvious: That the Pittsburgh Penguins didn't fluke their way to a victory, or a rally in this series.
"They've got a good team. So are we. They have guys that make plays. That's what everybody said coming into the series, and that's what you're seeing. They made some plays, we made some plays," said Osgood.
Lidstrom said the mistakes that were made can't be made against a team like the Penguins. "They're so quick from going from defense to offense, and they have the speed and they have the players who can make plays. That's why we have to cut down on some of the mistakes that we made, whether it's pinching at the wrong time or losing the third player high."
For Osgood, the bottom line is that the Red Wings have yet to play to their lofty standards.
"How many odd-manners did we give up?" said Osgood. "We haven't played as good as we can yet in these first four games. I thought last game was our best game, and we lost. We feel as a team that we haven't played our best yet, and it's 2-2. We gotta get some rest and refocus ourselves. We're not going to panic. We know what we have to do."