Large test for Pens

STEVE SIMMONS -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 2:52 PM ET

PITTSBURGH -- When it ended, the painful one-goal loss in Game 4 of the Stanley Cup final, Evgeni Malkin sat at his locker, face in hands, not moving.

It was the first visual sign from one of the young Pittsburgh Penguins that this dream season was not to be.

And it wasn't just Malkin. When Penguins coach Michel Therrien sat at the podium to answer questions, the tone lacked his usual bravado and humour.

Simply, he sounded frustrated and defeated.

Tonight, the Penguins have an enormous test against the Detroit Red Wings, not just to score some goals, but to try to win a game on the road and keep the Stanley Cup final alive. The Red Wings, who shut out the Pens in both of the first two games of the series and then allowed only one goal against in Game 4, can win the Cup tonight by defeating Pittsburgh.

"We know what we have to do," said captain Sidney Crosby, who, despite his rather sharp play in the series, has not been able to generate much scoring for the Pens. "We're going to be desperate. And all we focus on is winning that game."

The focus has been on Malkin, the Hart Trophy nominee, who has looked anything but MVP in the final. In the first half of the playoffs, he was dominant. In his past eight games, he has stopped generating offence and is without any points in the series.

"It's a tough time of year," Crosby said. "It's the time where you have fight through a lot of things. It's not always easy. And that's just part of the playoffs and you have to battle through that.

"It's a test mentally too. So he believes in himself. We believe in him."

The difficulty for Crosby and Malkin is dealing with the matchups, especially now that the games return to Joe Louis Arena which will give the Red Wings last change. The Wings prefer to match the Henrik Zetterberg-Pavel Datsyuk line against Crosby, with Nicklas Lidstrom and Brian Rafalski on defence.

In other words, every time Crosby is on the ice he plays against two of the three best defensive forwards in the game and the premier defenceman.

And it's not like Malkin has it easy himself. He faces Niklas Kronwall and Brad Stuart, a very strong second pair on the Detroit blue line, on almost every shift. The Penguins beat the Ottawa Senators in Round 1, the New York Rangers in Round 2 and the Philadelphia Flyers in Round 3, and really, only the Rangers were a sharp defensive team.

None of their previous opponents played team defence the way the Red Wings do. The adjustment has been difficult. The Pens have scored even strength goals in only one of the four games in the series.

The lack of scoring has caused an outcry for Crosby to be used more and Malkin to be used less but coach Therrien isn't necessarily buying in.

"First of all, Crosby can't play 26, 27, 28 minutes," Therrien said. "That's the number one thing. But we'll find a way to give quality ice time to Sid. That's our responsibility, and it's more difficult if the other team wants to -- they got the last change."


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