Call this one the Fickle Finals.

Two games into the Stanley Cup championship series, all signs pointed to a Red Wings redux. They might be older and more worn down than the youthful and energized Pittsburgh Penguins, but experience, guile and winning history seemed more than enough to carry Detroit to a repeat.

At least that's how it played out last year. The Red Wings won the first two games in Detroit, split the next two in Pittsburgh, then wrapped up their 11th championship in six games.

Why would this year be different?

But a 5 1/2-minute stretch in the second period of Game 4 on Thursday turned around the series. Instead of carrying a 3-1 lead back to Hockeytown, the defending champions are locked in a 2-2 fight.

Game 5 is tonight at Joe Louis Arena in Detroit.

"If you listen to what people on the outside say, Pittsburgh was done after two games. I don't think anybody in our locker room thought that," Red Wings coach Mike Babcock said yesterday. "Now if you listen to what people on the outside say, the Red Wings are done after two games. I don't think that's what we think."

After the NHL crammed the first five games into an 8-day stretch, including back-to-back contests to start the series, there will be 2 days off before Game 6 and 2 more before Game 7, should the series go the distance.

That could be what the Red Wings need. The return of leading scorer Pavel Datsyuk, who has missed seven playoff games due to a foot injury, would provide a major boost, and Babcock said that Datsyuk will play tonight in Game 5.

While the Penguins felt better about the first two games than they did a year ago when they failed to score, much of their talk was about missed opportunities and bad breaks in the first two games, a pair of 3-1 Detroit wins.

Now, after two 4-2 triumphs in front of white-clad crowds yearning for Pittsburgh's first hockey championship since 1992, the Penguins suddenly look like the favorites.

"As a team, we're always focused on what we need to do," Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said. "Hopefully we bring that levelheaded approach, whether it's a loss or whether it's a win. We're no closer to the end than they are.

"We have two more wins to get and we have a tall task going into a tough building against a very good team who is playing well."

"We know we have to go in there and play a solid game," Penguins captain Sidney Crosby said. "We want to come back [to Pittsburgh] obviously up.

"We've been in this situation before and we know that it gets more difficult as the series wears on. We've done a good job at home, but we've got to move on."


* A Toronto-based group has come forward with a proposal to launch a second NHL franchise in the city in time for the 2012-13 season. The Toronto Legacy Group suggested during a news conference yesterday that about $900 million in financing is already in place for the proposed expansion team. It would be known as the Toronto Legacy and play out of a 30,000-seat arena proposed for Downsview Park. *