DETROIT – The talk was all of bounces after the Detroit Red Wings got the jump on the Pittsburgh Penguins to open the Stanley Cup final.
Brad Stuart and Johan Franzen took pucks off the lively end boards at Joe Louis Arena and beat Marc-Andre Fleury as the Red Wings downed the Penguins 3-1 on Saturday night.
The two teams will continue the best-of-seven series in Game 2 at Joe Louis Arena on Sunday night (CBC, 8 p.m. ET).
Detroit goaltender Chris Osgood, a star of the game with 31 saves, certainly sympathized with his Pittsburgh counterpart.
“It can be frustrating but you just have to work at it,” said Osgood. “I just try to get back at my post as soon as possible.
“It really comes down to bounces and this time, the bounces went our way.”
Justin Abdelkader scored his first NHL goal for Detroit to seal the win in the third period while Ruslan Fedotenko scored for Pittsburgh, who are facing the Red Wings in the final for a second year in a row after losing to them in six games last spring.
It was more than bounces, as Detroit dominated the faceoff circle, winning 71 per cent of the draws – including 75 per cent by Henrik Zetterberg who was often matched against Penguins star Sidney Crosby, and 73 per cent by checker Darren Helm.
But timely goals were the main difference and two happened to come off rebounds off the end boards.
Stuart opened the scoring 13:38 into the game when he stopped a clearing attempt at the blue-line and then saw his point shot go off the boards, off the back of Fleury’s leg and into the net.
With the score 1-1 in the second frame, Franzen played a puck off the end boards and chopped a backhander that again hit the back of Fleury’s legs and went in for what proved to be the game-winner.
“That’s the situation where the pucks comes off the end boards quickly in this building,” said Pens coach Dan Bylsma. “We practised it.
“But tonight, they were better at it than we were. They capitalized on them. They were good plays by them.”
The game was a lively, physical thriller in which the best players – Pittsburgh’s Crosby and Evgeni Malkin and Detroit’s Zetterberg and Marian Hossa – were front and centre even if none of them scored.
But a key was Osgood – whose performance included a glove stop on a Malkin breakaway early in the second period. He had the better of Fleury, who stopped 27 shots.
“The goalie is the most important player every night and Ozzie did a good job for us,” said Detroit coach Mike Babcock. “I don’t think we were very good in the neutral zone – we turned over too many pucks.
“In the end, that catches up to you, but Ozzie made some real critical saves.”
The Penguins pulled Fleury with nearly a full two minutes left in the game and the Red Wings did all they could to feed ex-Penguin Hossa for an empty-net goal that never came.
The Red Wings were boosted by the return from injury of defence ace Nicklas Lidstrom and rookie blue-liner Jonathan Ericsson, but were still missing star centre Pavel Datsyuk and veteran Kris Draper.
It was clear from the opening faceoff that this was not the star-struck Pittsburgh team of a year ago that was shut out in the opening two games in Detroit as the Penguins battled the Red Wings evenly through a high-tempo first period.
Zetterberg rang a puck off the crossbar four minutes in and Hossa, a pariah in Pittsburgh since he jumped from the Penguins to Detroit last summer, had his bell rung on a jarring open ice hit by Brooks Orpik after eight minutes.
But Hossa shook it off at the bench and was back on the ice when Stuart kept a puck in at the left point and the defenceman saw his shot go off the end boards, hit the back of Fleury’s leg and slide into the net at 13:38.
“I just tried to get it in,” said Stuart. “Stuff happens. . . . it’s a game of bounces.
“We got the win but it’s a quick turnaround and we’ve got to get after them again tomorrow.”
The Penguins struck right back at 18:37, as Malkin intercepted a pass from Stuart in the Detroit zone and saw Fedotenko put in his rebound.
The crowd of 20,066 was chanting Ozzie, Ozzie after Malkin stole the puck from Niklas Kronwall and went in on a breakaway only to be thwarted 3:27 into the second frame
“He has a quick shot so I want to make myself as big as I could, and stay in my net as long as I could,” said Osgood. “I was fortunate to get a hand on it.”
Late in the period, the Red Wings had Pittsburgh hemmed in its zone for a long stretch until Hal Gill fired the puck past teammate Chris Kunitz at the blue-line for an icing call. Bylsma called time out to rest his troops, but Detroit won the faceoff and kept the puck in again.
That led to Franzen’s 11th of the playoffs.
Only 2:46 into the third frame, fourth liner Abdelkader, a 22-year-old from Muskegon, Mich., who had a team-low 5:10 of ice time, lifted his own rebound over Fleury for a two-goal lead.
“I actually got a good first shot off and Fluery made a great save,” said Abdelkader. “The puck went up in the air, I jumped up, grabbed it, pulled it down and put it on net.”
Although the Red Wings got the win, Zetterberg said they’ll have to play tighter on defence if they hope to repeat last year’s feat of winning the opening two games at home.
“As soon as one team did a mistake the other team took advantage,” he said. “For a while in the second period, both teams lost a lot of pucks in the neutral zone and you can’t do that against this team because they’ll take over.”
Stuart has only two post-season goals, but he was tough against Pittsburgh last year when he was second on the Wings in scoring for the series with a goal and four assists.
Teams that win Game 1 have gone on to win the Stanley Cup 54 times out of 69 (78 per cent) since the best-of-seven format was introduced in 1939.
Notes: As announced, Datsyuk sat out a fourth straight game with a foot injury while Draper missed a third with a groin problem. Peter Sykora was scratched for a 10th game in a row by Pittsburgh. . . The Red Wings average age is 33.4 years, more than four years older than the Penguins at 29.0 years. The youngest player in the final is Pens’ 20-year-old Jordan Staal while the oldest is 47-year-old Chris Chelios of the Red Wings. . . Hossa is the first player to switch sides in consecutive finals since John MacMillan in 1963 with Detroit and 1964 with Toronto.