No. 1 star, Jordan Staal, Pittsburgh Penguins:
He scored the most pivotal goal of the series, and it might be the one that's looked back upon if the Penguins dethrone the defending champions. Killing the second of consecutive Detroit power plays, Staal took off at center with the puck determined to drive the Red Wings' net. After exhibiting his breakaway speed to gain an advantage, Staal dipped his left shoulder under scrambling Red Wings defenseman Brian Rafalski for better leverage. Staal capped it with a skillful shot that beat Chris Osgood and tied the game 2-2, a strike that ignited a three-goal surge over the next 5:37 to turn a one-goal deficit into a two-goal lead. Staal, who also assisted Evgeni Malkin's first-period goal, managed four shots during his 18:22 of ice time. And yes, we're cutting him some major slack for a 2-13 night in the faceoff circle.
No. 2 star, Marc-Andre Fleury, Pittsburgh Penguins:
The goalie, who seems most comfortable at home, was stellar. There were times when the Wings could have made it much tighter, but Fleury just would not allow Detroit to get that third goal. He had 37 saves in all and spearheaded a perfect 4-for-4 night on Pittsburgh's penalty kill.
No. 3 star, Evgeni Malkin/Sidney Crosby, Penguins:
Pittsburgh's two biggest stars were brilliant. Malkin scored the pivotal first goal and had an assist. He has 35 points to lead all playoff scorers. Crosby had a goal and an assist as well, but more importantly he had the Pens playing the game at a pace that made the Wings look like they were uncomfortable for a change, especially Henrik Zetterberg, which is a huge surprise.
Major penalty: Detroit's special teams had only been a minor nuisance – namely the penalty kill – during these Stanley Cup playoffs. But on Thursday night they were downright dreadful. Allowing a short-handed goal on the second of consecutive power plays was a game- and possible series-changing event for the defending champs. Rafalski was too casual at center and lost his defensive posture against Staal. Detroit's power play has now produced as many goals in the series as it's allowed – one. And the Red Wings' penalty kill has allowed four power-play goals to Pittsburgh in the last seven chances. Hello, Pavel Datsyuk?
Minor penalty: Tomas Holmstrom had a glorious opportunity early in the third period to cut the Pittsburgh margin in half and give the visitors a boost. But instead of burying a shot that would have made it 4-3 from close range, Holmstrom only found Fleury's pads and couldn't get in position for a second chance.
Did you know?: Detroit is 44-52 all-time in the fourth game of a series, the worst record the Wings have in any game of the playoffs.
The top sports headlines of the day
Conn Smythe Watch: (The Top 10) 1. Evgeni Malkin, Penguins; 2. Sidney Crosby, Penguins; 3. Johan Franzen, Red Wings; 4. Nicklas Lidstrom, Red Wings; 5. Marc-Andre Fleury, Penguins; 6. Darren Helm, Red Wings; 7. Sergei Gonchar, Penguins; 8. Henrik Zetterberg, Red Wings; 9. Daniel Cleary, Red Wings; 10. Jordan Staal, Penguins.