The Penguins could have started to doubt after they lost the first two games of this Stanley Cup final.
Likely should have.
After all, only one team has won a championship after dropping Game 1 and 2 on the road, the way the Penguins did in Detroit.
And, if that start didn't do it, simply watching a 1-0 lead melt into a 2-1 deficit last night might have been enough to put some permanent dents in their confidence.
Didn't happen, though. If their faith in themselves has been shaken at any point in this series, it has not shown.
And it likely won't anytime soon, now that they have tied the final, 2-2, by virtue of a 4-2 victory against the Red Wings in Game 4 at Mellon Arena last night.
"We won this one because we believe," forward Max Talbot said.
They certainly have good reason to. They not only have beaten the Red Wings twice in a row, but have gotten two excellent games in a row from goalie Marc-Andre Fleury, who turned aside 37 of 39 shots last night, and continue to dominate the special-teams battle.
In Game 4, the Penguins not only scored on one of three power plays, but got a short-handed goal from Jordan Staal that radically altered the course of the game.
They were trailing, 2-1, in the second period and killing a tripping minor to defenseman Brooks Orpik when Staal got the puck from Talbot in the neutral zone and carried it into the Detroit end.
He held off Red Wings defenseman Brian Rafalski as he moved toward the net -- "I just tried to get my body in there as best I could," Staal said -- then pulled the puck onto his forehand and threw it past goalie Chris Osgood to tie the score at 8:35 of the second period.
"It certainly changed the complexion of the game," Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said.
And possibly the series, which will resume with Game 5 tomorrow night in Detroit. The winner of that one will be positioned to claim the championship when the series returns here for Game 6 Tuesday.
Staal's goal -- his first in eight games and the Penguins' first short-handed one in these playoffs -- invigorated not only the standing-room crowd of 17,132, but his teammates.
"They had way more energy than us from that point on," Red Wings coach Mike Babcock said.
That was particularly true of the guy who watched the play unfold from the loneliest seat in the building.
"That's the best feeling in the world," Orpik said.
The one the Penguins got when Sidney Crosby scored what proved to be the winner at 10:34 probably wasn't far behind.
Evgeni Malkin, who had scored the Penguins' first goal on a power play at 2:39 of the opening period, blocked a shot by Detroit defenseman Brad Stuart at the left point in the Penguins' end to set up a two-on-one break against Red Wings defenseman Jonathan Ericsson.
Ericsson was able to break up Malkin's initial cross-ice pass to Crosby, but couldn't prevent him from getting it through on the second try. Crosby got the puck to the left of the crease and threw a shot past Osgood for his 15th of the postseason, but first of the series.
"I was happy to see one go in," Crosby said.
So, apparently, was teammate Kris Letang, who pretty much tackled Crosby when he joined him for the post-goal celebration.
"I didn't expect [Letang] to come at me that hard," Crosby said. "But he was happy for me."
Malkin's assist was his 35th point of these playoffs, the most anyone has gotten in the postseason since Wayne Gretzky of Los Angeles accumulated 40 in 1993.
"[Malkin] and Sid both elevated their game at the right time," left winger Chris Kunitz said.
That's something the Red Wings' power play, dangerous as it is most of the time, wasn't able to do on four tries.
"I thought our power play sucked the life right out of us," Babcock said.
That doesn't mean the problem is permanent. The Red Wings are too deep, too balanced, too experienced to wilt simply because they've have lost a couple of games.
"We're going back into their building, and they're going to battle," Talbot said. "It won't be easy from now until the end."
First Published June 5, 2009 4:00 AM