PITTSBURGH (AP) Sidney Crosby was nowhere to be found, hidden from sight before the Pittsburgh Penguins play the game that likely will tell them if they have any chance of overtaking the Detroit Red Wings and winning the Stanley Cup.
At the rink? Sorry, no Crosby sighting there as the Penguins rested Monday after losing two games in two nights in Detroit, putting themselves into a deep, deep hole from which only one of 32 teams has previously escaped during the finals.
Doing interviews? Nope, it was a rare Crosby-free day for reporters curious to find out if being shut out on consecutive nights frustrated or, conversely, further motivated the NHL’s most visible player going into Game 3 on Tuesday night.
“Every day doesn’t need to be Sidney Crosby day,” Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said of keeping his captain away from probing minds.
Oh, but every day is Crosby day for the Red Wings. Their twin 3-1 victories in Detroit on Saturday and Sunday were created in part by the blanketing defense of Henrik Zetterberg, who has stayed so close to Crosby during the finals that he probably knew where Sid the Kid was hiding out during Pittsburgh’s day off.
Zetterberg went over the boards for all but one of Crosby’s shifts in Joe Louis Arena, holding him scoreless and creating some visible frustration as the Red Wings closed to within two victories of winning their fifth Stanley Cup since 1997.
Me and my shadow, indeed.
“I’ve been in different roles, different situations and this one is a pure challenge and it’s fun,” Zetterberg said.
The question is whether the fun stops for the player known simply as Z by his Red Wings teammates once the venue changes Tuesday night. The Penguins can make the final line change at home, and Bylsma won’t have to be as concerned with Zetterberg hitting the ice a moment after Crosby does.
Crosby didn’t score in consecutive playoff games for the first time since Games 1 and 2 of the finals against Detroit last season, but he wasn’t invisible. Crosby hit the inside of a post among five shots in Game 2, and he had enough scoring chances to worry Mike Babcock, especially now that the Red Wings coach must be creative to pair Zetterberg and defenseman Nicklas Lidstrom against Crosby.
“They’re going to make it hard for us,” Babcock said. “We’re going to do what we can. We’ve won a lot of games this year on the road and we did it because we’re willing to move people around and have good balance and come at teams.”
The Red Wings know they’ll see plenty of Crosby and playoffs scoring leader Evgeni Malkin, and a lot of desperation, as the Penguins try to avoid going down 3-0 to the defending champs – a loss that would likely make the rest of the finals a mere formality.
The Penguins’ task is hard enough; of the 32 teams to previously win the first two games 2 on home ice, 31 won the Stanley Cup. Only Chicago failed, against Montreal in 1971.
“Hey, crazier things have happened,” forward Bill Guerin said.
Pittsburgh pulled off a 2-0 comeback earlier this spring, rallying to beat the Washington Capitals in seven games despite losing Game 6 at home. But the Capitals lacked the depth, maturity, goaltending and playoff know-how of the Red Wings, who may be even better than the team that took out Pittsburgh in six games last spring.
Detroit, for example, got insurance goals in each of the first two games from rookie Justin Abdelkader, who spent all but two games this season in the minors, while defenseman Jonathan Ericsson had the pivotal goal in Game 2 only a few days after having his appendix removed.
Hart Trophy finalist Pavel Datsyuk has missed five games with an injured foot and, still limping around the rink, doesn’t look close to being ready to play. So far it hasn’t mattered, and Detroit’s goal is to keep it that way.
“The Zetterberg line is doing a phenomenal job against Sid and we try to do the same thing against Malkin,” Marian Hossa said. “They’re dangerous players, they’re getting great chances and but we try to eliminate them.”
Hossa, perhaps better than any of his teammates, knows what awaits the Red Wings in Pittsburgh. Hossa surprised the Penguins last summer by turning down a $49 million, seven-year offer to stay in Pittsburgh and instead signed with Detroit for $7.5 million and one season, saying the Red Wings offered the best chance of winning the Stanley Cup.
So far, it looks like he’s made the right decision, which should further anger the fans who booed him whenever he stepped onto the ice during Detroit’s 3-0 win in Pittsburgh on Feb. 8.
“It’s going to be loud in Pittsburgh,” Hossa said. “They show you what they think. … Nothing is going to change on my part. I just try to use it to my advantage, that booing, (and) play my game.”
The Penguins know they can’t keep playing Detroit’s game and hope to succeed, but they’re confident that going home will help them slip more pucks behind Chris Osgood. They also hope it steadies goalie Marc-Andre Fleury, who was shaky in Game 1 and was beaten by a long, knuckleball-like shot by Abdelkader in Game 2.
To win, Pittsburgh probably needs contributions from someone other than Malkin (1 goal, 1 assist), who displayed some of his frustration by fighting with Zetterberg late in Game 2. Similarly, Crosby flashed his discontent by ramming his stick into Kirk Malby after Game 1. Now, in so desperate a situation, the Penguins need their stars to score, not to scrap.
They also aren’t getting any offense from center Jordan Staal’s third line or from Chris Kunitz, who plays alongside Crosby yet has only one goal in 24 games. That won’t get it done against these fast-rolling Detroit wheels.
“I don’t think we should be frustrated,” defenseman Sergei Gonchar said. “I don’t think we are frustrated because the series is not over.”
Lose Tuesday, and it might be.