A rough day for an organization that saw an assistant captain suspended through the first round of the playoffs could have taken an even more dire turn when the Pittsburgh Penguins were a tentacle away from blowing a four-goal lead in Detroit. Alas, disaster was averted when James Neal produced his top moment in black and gold and the Pens emerged victorious 5-4 in a shootout.
After an opening flurry by the Red Wings, the Penguins marched to a 4-0 lead behind solid all-around play, especially getting out of their defensive zone, and on the strength of two goals from Pascal Dupuis. Chris Kunitz also scored but it was Tyler Kennedy’s marker that chased Detroit starting goalie Jimmy Howard just 25 minutes into the contest.
Everything was going so smoothly. Brent Johnson was making key saves in net and the Pens were carrying the play. And then…the nightmare began.
Playing without three of their own stars, Detroit turned momentum late in the second when Henrik Zetterberg’s backhand cut the lead to 4-1. However, it was an impressive and explosive three-goal third period that earned the Wings a point.
Valteri Filppula closed the gap two minutes into the third, but it was power play goals from Dan Cleary and Mike Modano that took advantage of a lack of composure from Pittsburgh and knotted the score.
The most nauseating moment came with just three minutes left in regulation. Kris Letang, who played a risky, edgy, and border-line dangerous game, pinched at the wrong time and an ultimate collapse looked assured as two Red Wings raced toward Brent Johnson in a short-handed two-on-one. However, Johnson was up to the task, and hugged the Darren Helm shot to his hip, and extended the tie.
After five failed shootout attempts, James Neal, in his first chance as a Penguin, fired a wrister over Joey MacDonald’s glove and secured the two points.
As the Versus announcers proclaimed, it truly was three games in one. The Pens dominated early. The Red Wings ferociously tied it. Neal’s game-winner solidified the trilogy.