DETROIT – There is no sense of panic in these Pittsburgh Penguins.
They may have lost the first game of the Stanley Cup final to the Detroit Red Wings on Saturday night, but they came away from it feeling certain that they can compete with the defending champions. Detroit got fortunate bounces on two goals during its 3-1 victory and received a much stronger challenge from Pittsburgh than it did in last year’s Cup opener.
While no one was happy with the result in the Penguins dressing room, there was still some positive things to take into Sunday’s Game 2.
“We never thought this was going to be easy, especially coming in here first and playing in their building,” said veteran forward Bill Guerin. “We know it’s going to be tough. Tomorrow night’s a new night.”
Pittsburgh had won eight of its last nine games heading into the final but has also dealt with some adversity during this post-season. It fell behind Washington 2-0 in the second round before rallying to win the series in seven games.
History is against them doing the same thing here. Teams winning the first game of the Stanley Cup final have gone on to take the series an astounding 78 per cent of the time.
But the Penguins aren’t paying attention to any stats like that.
“The focus of this is a race to four (wins),” said coach Dan Bylsma. “They’ve got one on us. We have to keep trying to dictate, play our game, and force their (defencemen) to play at a pace where they have to go back and deal with our speed and skill. …
“They’ve got one, and we’ve got to come back tomorrow.”
The first game was there for the taking.
It was tied 1-1 in the second period when Evgeni Malkin stole the puck from Brad Stuart and came in on a clear breakaway. He tried to beat Chris Osgood to the glove side but the Red Wings goalie got a piece of the shot.
Miroslav Satan also had a golden opportunity a little while after that, but he lost control of the puck after appearing to have Osgood beat with a deke.
Pittsburgh ended up outshooting the Red Wings 32-30. The players know that goals will be at a premium in this series.
“We expect it to be tight,” said captain Sidney Crosby, who was held off the scoresheet for just third time in these playoffs. “That’s the way it is. I think we generated some good scoring chances.”
One of his came with a little bit of controversy.
In the third period, Crosby took a shot that ended up landing on Osgood’s back and staying there. Henrik Zetterberg put his hand over the puck, which usually calls for a penalty shot when it happens in the crease. There was no call on the play.
“I’ve never seen that happen before,” said Crosby.
Penguins goalie Marc-Andre Fleury looked pretty sharp but had a couple funny goals get behind him. Stuart opened the scoring when his point shot caromed off the boards behind the net and went in off Fleury’s leg.
The eventual winner also went in off his leg as Johan Franzen took a shot from behind the net late in the second period. Justin Abdelkader rounded out the scoring in the third by knocking a bouncing puck that floated over the Penguins goalie.
“I think it’s unfortunate,” said Fleury. “It’s just a little frustrating. It wasn’t a clean shot that beat me.”
However, it’s not something the team wanted to use as an excuse. Later in the series, there could just as easily be strange goals going into the Red Wings net.
“You do get bounces,” said Guerin. “Some nights you get them, some nights you don’t. They did get a few tonight but that’s part of it, you have to accept that.
“We had some great opportunities in the second and third (periods). Hopefully in the next few games we’ll bury them.”
Added Crosby: “There’s lots of hockey left.”
There’s already a little bad blood brewing.
The game was surprisingly physical – particularly in the first period – and ended with Crosby giving Kirk Maltby a pretty good slash across the top of the skate. The Penguins captain was angry that Maltby “was doing what he always does” and trash talking after the final buzzer.
“I thought I’d whack him and that was it,” said Crosby.