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Sunday, June 1, 2008

Game 4: Suffocation -- Detroit wins 2-1

Pittsburgh scored first.

Marian Hossa stuffs one in on the power play and gets the Igloo rocking.

Up to this point in the playoffs, that meant "GAME OVER" in Pittsburgh. After all, Pittsburgh hadn't lost at home since December, or at least that's how it seemed. They hadn't lost there in the playoffs yet.

Scoring first was always what a team needed to clinch a victory. Swing the pressure to the other team. Make them press, make them make mistakes.

Less than five minutes later, Nicklas Lidstrom rips a shot from the point that zips past Marc-Andre Fleury and all momentum is gone. It's essentially 0-0 all over again. Next goal could be the one that swings the game. They play through the remainder of the first, playing even, Detroit resisting the Pittsburgh power play, shutting them down and learning from their early mistake in the period.

Next goal swings the tide. Has to.

Second period begins and plods along. The obstruction that Pens coach Michel Therrien has been complaining about is running rampant all over the ice. From both teams.

No one wants to make the big mistake - they all know that the next goal is the big one. The referees are content to let the teams play it out. Each team gets one power play opportunity in the second, both come highly questioned, especially considering everything else that was let go.

"Play through it boys, we're not deciding this one for you," was probably heard on the ice from a zebra at one point. The irony of the statement is not lost on this guy, but that's neither here nor there. The second period plods along. Shots were even, the score is even.

The third period of a tie game in a Game 4 that essentially decides the direction of the series. A Penguins win and it becomes a best of three series. Anything can happen. Any momentum shift can alter the path of the series. One bad goal can change everything. One turnover can do it all.

A funny thing happens early in the third period. Brooks Orpik looks to clear the puck up the boards to teammate Gary Roberts. The puck gets away from Roberts and hops on the stick of Brad Stuart who quickly gets the puck to Darren Helm who then finds Jiri Hudler who wheels, fires a backhand that gets past Marc-Andre Fleury.

2-1 Detroit.

Game over, right? Not so fast...

Halfway through the third, Wings forward Kirk Maltby gets busted for hooking. Pittsburgh to the power play. Hang on to your seats kids, this could decide the game. The Pens dump into the zone and Sid the Kid is hot after it. Andreas Lilja does what Michel Therrien has been crying about all Finals long and gets in Sid's way as he's trying to get the puck in the corner. Another penalty.

A five-on-three power play for nearly 1:30. It's not a question of will this game be tied but a question of when will it get tied.

A minute into the power play, Pittsburgh is pressing hard, Zetterberg is torturing them, Lidstrom and Kronwall are holding down the fort down low. The puck hops into the crowd. There's still another 30 seconds or so on the 5x3 and another 30 of 5x4 power play time.

Michel Therrien wants a timeout.

Let's go over this again. The attacking team, the team on the power play, the team that can virtually change lines at will while the killing team has to sit there and take it and desperately hope to get a hold of it to make a change.

The Penguins want a time out to rest their attackers to keep them on the ice. Missing the point here, Therrien also gave time for the big three to rest up for Detroit.

Play resets, Malkin fumbles the puck at the blue line and Zetterberg takes it away and gets a shot off while killing a 5x3 power play. The 5x3 goes away and Maltby returns to the ice. 30 seconds later, Andreas Lilja is hopping out of the box and jumping into the play to help block a shot.

Attack over.

Game over.

Detroit wins 2-1.

For everything Michel Therrien will be remembered for in this Cup Finals, none of them will be good, unless Pittsburgh can rattle off three wins in a row, which seems highly unlikely at this point. Therrien will be remembered as the guy who rather than scheme up a plan to counter what the Red Wings do, opted to complain often and loudly during and after the game that the Red Wings were playing hockey the old, ugly way. Barry Trotz, Joel Quenneville and Dave Tippett apparently all missed this in their series with Detroit this year - but Therrien throws out this blind dart in hoping that the officials will buy into it and give his team the offensive advantage by putting them on the power play more.

Even worse yet, by taking this stand he's made it OK for his team to take this attitude onto the ice. Some folks are confusing this with entitlement, that the Penguins were the chosen ones and that all would fall down before them.

I'm not buying this at all. I think that Pittsburgh had such an easy and golden road through the Eastern Conference, only needing to stop for bumps in the road, ever so slight as they were, with the punchless Rangers and the gutless Flyers. They had it in their minds that the whole way was going to be this easy.

Therrien's complaining and whining have been destructive for his team. His bad attitude and "woe is me" routine has poisoned this team in this series. Watching last night's game was an exercise in "How not to conduct yourself on ice." Every whistle, every call, every face-off you could see a Pittsburgh player or Therrien barking at a linesman or referee - yelling, complaining about...something. Even when Pittsburgh was getting the majority of the calls their way, someone was yelling about something. It's impossible to name names at this point to find the worst offenders, but this is the hell that Therrien hath wrought upon his players.

It's not entitlement, it's just frustration - and a highly frustrated coach leading a team full of young, highly frustrated players is a recipe for whining. Baby can't have the bottle so baby is going to yell to mommy.

Hockey isn't about whining. Never has, never will. It's about looking hardship in the face, spitting in its face and saying, "Up yours - I'm doing this the way I know how to need to win."

It's tough to say that you want to run a guy out of town after he takes his team to the Stanley Cup Finals, but these finals have shown me that Michel Therrien is the absolute wrong guy to take the Pittsburgh Penguins into the future.

He's certainly not Glen Sather, who in the same position with a similarly young and talented team in the early 1980s, was able to take his lumps against the New York Islanders and use that as a building block to take the league over. I don't recall ever seeing Glen Sather hitting the press and setting a bad example for Gretzky and Messier and Kurri. Given what Michel Therrien has shown here, he can only lead this young bunch to more bad habits. There are some good coaches out there waiting to be hired right now that would suit this team a lot better. It might behoove the Penguins to make a move once the series is over and should the Penguins, indeed, lose out to get Therrien out of there and get someone who can mold this team better for the future.

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