We resist to say 'series over' ... for now
DETROIT -- You go through all the images and descriptors in your head -- taken to the woodshed, men to boys, shell-shocked, circle-booted -- and nothing seems to do justice to what the Detroit Red Wings did to the Pittsburgh Penguins on Saturday night in Detroit.
The Wings' 5-0 victory, which gave them a 3-2 series lead and a chance to win the Stanley Cup on Tuesday night in Pittsburgh, was a public humiliation.
"I think we were so wound up in trying to do other stuff besides playing our game, and like I said, we never gave ourselves a chance to come back," Pittsburgh defenseman Rob Scuderi said in the aftermath of a game in which the Penguins lost their collective marbles by accumulating 48 penalty minutes to the Red Wings' 14.
"We were too revved and I don't know what we were trying to do," Scuderi said of the team's worst playoff loss in the past two postseasons. "That's not the way we play and that's not the way we've played this series."
But while we can marvel at Detroit's four second-period goals and the chasing of Pittsburgh netminder Marc-Andre Fleury in what was more an act of mercy by Pittsburgh coach Dan Bylsma, we resist for a moment the overwhelming temptation to mark this series as over. For a moment.
Because we think back to Game 4 in Pittsburgh, where, for a moment, we wondered if, during a similar second-period firestorm, that was the moment the worm had turned in this series with the Penguins making the veteran Red Wings look tired and vulnerable en route to a 4-2 victory.
"It's amazing how tired you look when you're not scoring and they are," Detroit coach Mike Babcock quipped.
The Wings looked nothing of the sort Saturday as they made the Penguins look youthful and ill-prepared for the first time since losing to talented Ottawa in five games three seasons ago.
In what may be a bit of foreshadowing, the Chicago Blackhawks thought they were poised to unseat the Red Wings when they won Game 3 of the Western Conference finals and the Red Wings entered Game 4 seemingly on the ropes with Pavel Datsyuk and Nicklas Lidstrom out of the lineup. Instead, the Wings crushed the young, undisciplined Blackhawks 6-1 in Game 5 and moved on to their fifth Stanley Cup finals since 1997.
"I keep hearing about how old we are. But when I watch Fil [Valtteri Filppula] play, doesn't look like he's that old, and [Pavel] Datsyuk and [Henrik] Zetterberg are not that old, and [Marian] Hossa's not that old, and the Mule's [Johan Franzen] not so old, so who is old? Cheli's older than me, I give you that," said Babcock, referring to the 47-year-old Chris Chelios, who wasn't in the lineup.
"But I guess the way I look at it is, I hear this all the time. I think if you go through and take out a few guys, I don't think we're that old," he said.
So, we imagine two possibilities in the aftermath of the Penguins' embarrassing outing Saturday.
One (and we suspect this will be the common refrain between now and Game 6 on Tuesday) is the Wings did indeed have another gear, that their vast experience allows them to put a rough outing behind them, and not just push back, but make a powerful statement.
With questions being asked about their top players, Datsyuk returned to the lineup with a vengeance and Hossa had his best game of the series. Lidstrom had his first point of the series and Dan Cleary, who ended up with the game winner, scored his first goal of the Cup finals.
The second possibility: This game will end up being simply another statement in a series that has been full of them. And further, it means nothing more than any of the other statements made along the way, any more than Game 4 meant anything beyond that moment in Pittsburgh.
"They put a string together like we did last game," Pittsburgh captain Sidney Crosby said. "That's what it came down to. They put a string together and they took away our momentum."
If that is the case, then the Penguins will have two days to prove they are not done, that they can, like the Red Wings, put something like this behind them and keep their own Cup dreams alive.
Babcock agreed that one thing does not necessarily lead to another.
"I don't buy any of that. I don't even buy momentum. I tell you guys that all the time and no one listens," Babcock said.
The Penguins believe they can put this behind them, "because it's only one game. We might have lost 5-zip, but it could be 10-0," Scuderi said. "It's still only worth one game. It's 3-2 in the series. We're going back home. At least the best thing you can say about tonight is we shot ourselves in the foot. It wasn't so much that we played our game and lost. We continuously shot ourselves in the foot and didn't give ourselves a chance to come back."
Max Talbot, one of the heroes in Game 5 in Detroit a year ago, said he thinks losing badly is easier to get over.
"It's easier to lose like that than to lose 2-1 in overtime," Talbot said. "2-1 in overtime, you look at every little detail. ... They played really well, we didn't. Now Game 6 is at home."
On Tuesday, we will find out if Game 6 is another celebration night or just another statement night in a series that saw its most emphatic declaration made by the Red Wings on Saturday.
Scott Burnside covers the NHL for ESPN.com.