DETROIT – Even though the Detroit Red Wings are halfway home to another Stanley Cup, they still feel like there’s a long way to go.
The Red Wings managed to win the first two games of this championship series despite missing key players from their lineup and getting outchanced by the Pittsburgh Penguins. It left goalie Chris Osgood and several other players speaking cautiously after Sunday’s 3-1 victory.
“By no means are we going to say we outplayed them in two games – they played good hockey the first two games and gave us everything we can handle,” said Osgood, who finished with 31 saves. “We feel good that we’re up 2-0 but we know that we can play better in Game 3.
“We’ve got to get a day off and rest up and have our best game.”
The Detroit goals came from a trio of players currently assuming bigger roles in the post-season than they had from October to April – Jonathan Ericsson, Valtteri Filppula and Justin Abdelkader.
A second victory in as many nights greatly increased the odds that those guys will soon have their names inscribed on the NHL’s championship trophy. Teams winning the first two games of the Stanley Cup final on home ice have gone on to take the series 31 of 32 times.
Evgeni Malkin replied for Pittsburgh, which will look to rebound at Mellon Arena starting with Game 3 on Tuesday night.
“We played two good games,” said Penguins forward Pascal Dupuis. “We (outshot) them in two games. If we keep playing well, the hockey gods are going to be on our side.”
They received a big break when the NHL decided to rescind an automatic one-game suspension that Malkin could have received after being assessed an instigator penalty in the final minute. He fought Henrik Zetterberg and was ejected for not having his jersey tied down.
However, that didn’t warrant any extra punishment.
“Suspensions are applied under this rule when a team attempts to send a message in the last five minutes by having a player instigate a fight,” league disciplinarian Colin Campbell said in a statement. “A suspension could also be applied when a player seeks retribution for a prior incident.
“Neither was the case here and therefore the one game suspension is rescinded.”
Until now, the good fortune has gone mostly to Detroit.
Filppula’s goal at 10:29 of the second period stood up as the winner and came just moments after teammate Marian Hossa had broke Dupuis’ stick with a hard slash. That would be called a penalty in almost any other game of the season.
Bill Guerin and Sidney Crosby each hit posts while the Penguins were trailing 2-1 and Crosby had a further chance stopped by a diving Zetterberg, who appeared to grab the puck in the crease for a second straight game. Again, no penalty shot was awarded.
That was soon followed by an Abdelkader goal that came on an innocent-looking play. He swiped at a bouncing puck on a lone rush and had it float behind Marc-Andre Fleury at 2:47 of the third period.
And the Red Wings are lights out with a two-goal lead.
“I thought we bent but didn’t break,” said Detroit GM Ken Holland. “They had a good push in the second period and we hung in there.
“We got a great goal from Abdelkader in the third. With a two-goal lead, we can play our game.”
The most amazing part of the two victories in this series might be that they came on back-to-back nights and without Pavel Datsyuk, a finalist for the Hart Trophy who has been sidelined with a foot problem. It’s the first time since 1955 that two Stanley Cup games were played consecutively.
Osgood was arguably the first star on both occasions.
“I thought Pittsburgh played very well in the first two games,” said Red Wings forward Dan Cleary. “Just that Ozzie’s been great.”
His best saves in Game 2 came against the Penguins top two snipers – Osgood got a glove on a Malkin chance from in-close during the second period and his toe on an opportunity from Crosby that came after the Penguins captain skated through a few players in the third.
Malkin and Crosby are the top two scorers during this post-season but have been limited to a combined two points so far in the Stanley Cup.
“We had stretches where we played good,” said Penguins coach Dan Bylsma. “We got scoring chances and pucks around the net and we didn’t capitalize on them when we needed to.”
Even though his team now trails the Wings 2-0 in the Stanley Cup final for the second straight spring, the similarities between the series end there. Pittsburgh outshot the Wings in both games this time around and arguably deserved a victory here – if not two.
They’ll actually carry some confidence into Game 3.
“Last year we got beaten pretty badly (in the first two games),” said Penguins defenceman Hal Gill. “Last year we went home thinking, ‘What do we have to do?’ This year we know what to do.”
It seemed to be a fact that was understood well in the other dressing room as well.
A handful of Red Wings players indicated that their team was a bit fortunate to have come out on top in each of the first two games.
“They had a lot of chances, they created a lot,” said Zetterberg. “Ozzie played good again and it saved us.”
Notes: The Red Wings are 10-1 at Joe Louis Arena during these playoffs … Pascal Dupuis was inserted into Pittsburgh’s lineup for the first time in nine games at the expense of Phillippe Boucher … It was two years to the day since Crosby was named the Penguins captain … Referee Bill McCreary is working his 14th Stanley Cup final and took part in his 38th championship game … Linesman Jean Morin used a towel to remove an octopus from the ice late in the second period.