Magic of Game 5 couldn't carry Penguins

Red Wings' experience turns out to be the deciding factor in series

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There is no momentum in hockey. And no Stanley Cup for the Penguins.

The momentum of magical Game 5 surfaced too late last night at Mellon Arena. The hoped-for, if not expected, impetus from the epic three-overtime victory two nights earlier was shoved aside every bit as much by Detroit superiority as it was by anything the Penguins did wrong.

Detroit scored the first two goals on its way to a 3-2 victory to win the best-of-seven series in six games.

Befitting the gallantry of the Penguins, the game was in doubt until the final seconds. Marian Hossa corralled a rebound as the clock was running down and with one hand flipped it across the goal mouth. Unfortunately for the Penguins, Hossa was at such an angle to the goal that he could do nothing but direct the puck in a straight line. It slowly and tauntingly drifted parallel to the goal line and then beyond it as time expired.

The Penguins played well. This was no repeat of the first two games of the final when the Red Wings scored shutout victories. But what was clear, what these six games proved, is that the Red Wings had an edge on the Penguins in most categories. No one likes to hear this but the better team won the Stanley Cup.

That was never more evident than midway through the first period when the Red Wings had the Penguins right where they wanted them: Down three skaters to five for 1 minute, 33 seconds. With two Red Wings in the penalty box and such first-rate talent as Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Sergei Gonchar, Ryan Malone and Hossa on the ice for most of those 93 seconds, the Penguins should have scored. They did not.

It was a crushing blow, much like it was in the third period of Game 4 when the Penguins had a 5-on-3 advantage for 1:26 and did not score.

Max Talbot's tying goal with 25 seconds remaining in regulation in Game 5 will be remembered as the high point of this series for the Penguins. The low point will be the team's failure to twice take advantage of 5-on-3 situations. For want of a power-play goal the Penguins faltered and lost.

But this is no time to dissect the strategy of the power play, no time to gripe, no time to be bitter.

The Penguins are an upstart franchise. They made the playoffs last season after finishing last in their division for four consecutive seasons. By comparison, the Red Wings are one of the reigning giants of the NHL. They've scored more than 100 points in each of the past five seasons and led the league four of those years.

The talent level between the teams was slight. The experience was the difference. The young legs of the Penguins could not overcome the experience of the Red Wings.

Defensively, the Penguins simply didn't have the players in front of goalie Marc-Andre Fleury that Detroit had in front of Chris Osgood.

"One of the things we said we had to do was shut down their offense," said Detroit captain Nicklas Lidstrom. "We knew we had to cut down their scoring chances, especially their first two lines."

The fact the Penguins scored 10 goals in six games is testimony to the success of that strategy.

Nor were the Red Wings short offensively. For all the brilliance of the Penguins young superstars, the best player on the ice in this series -- the winner of the Conn Smythe trophy -- was Henrik Zetterberg of the Red Wings, who operated at an exceptional level on both ends of the ice and had a goal and an assist last night. Zetterberg and Crosby tied for the playoff scoring lead with 27 points.

Traditionally, when the home team loses in championship competition -- especially in Pittsburgh -- a spate of finger-pointing breaks out. There should be none of that with this team. There's no reason for the players or coaches to hang their heads and absolutely no reason for anyone to assess blame. Sometimes the reason for defeat is as simple as the other team was better. That was the case in this series.

"I'm almost speechless," said coach Michel Therrien. "It's tough. We were that close. It's really tough because this is a group that gave what it got. They deserve a lot of respect."

The Penguins did all that could be expected of them this season. They overcame mammoth adversity in the regular season -- major injuries to Crosby and Fleury -- to win their division and finish second in the Eastern Conference. They blew threw the first three rounds of the playoffs, clearly demonstrating they were the best in the East.

Detroit was different.

"I thought we learned real quick because after Game 3 we started to play our game," said Therrien. "They were tight games, could go both ways. Tonight, this game could have gone both ways as well."

Could have, but didn't. It was a disappointing end to an exceptionally successfully season.

Bob Smizik can be reached at .


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