DETROIT – On a day when the teams travel, we sort out why the Stanley Cup final, currently led 2-0 by the Detroit Red Wings, can still be salvaged.
First of all, there’s the very basic fact the Red Wings and Pittsburgh Penguins play in the NHL. As such, when Pens superstar Evgeni Malkin picked a fight with Henrik Zetterberg in the closing moments of Game 2 and was penalized appropriately with an instigator, the league quickly acted to rescind the ‘automatic’ one-game suspension that can accompany initiating a fight in the last five minutes of the third period.
Here is the league’s logic, as per a press release following the Wings’ second 3-1 victory of the series: “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. 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 Neither was the case here and therefore the one-game suspension is rescinded.”
Unless Malkin was trying to make Zetterberg answer for silencing his buddy Sidney Crosby, we see where the NHL’s head is at with this. The truth is, Max Talbot’s jab into Chris Osgood’s chest is what really started this melee and Malkin just got a little too frisky in the aftermath.
That resulted in a new hockey experience for Zetterberg.
“Well, I think that’s the first one,” he said after being asked in the post-game press conference when his last five for fighting was. “I think Talbot went over and slashed Ozzie a little bit, and they got a scrum. Malkin came around the net and off it went.”
I can’t imagine too many people are truly perturbed Pittsburgh will have both its superstars in the line up for Game 3.
And unlike last year – when their bodies were there, but their minds were blown and their spirit startled – the Pens have already seen their stars through the first two games of the series.
Malkin has been in on both of Pittsburgh’s goals and while Crosby is pointless, he’s shaken the checking of Zetterberg and Nicklas Lidstrom enough times to rattle a goalpost or two.
“I think last year, the Malkins and Crosbys were engaged about Game 3,” said Detroit coach Mike Babcock. “This year when the puck dropped, they were engaged. And sometimes that’s just not understanding or knowing what the situation is going to be.”
Last season the Pens had a combined 41 shots and zero goals through the first two games in Detroit. This time around, they outshot the Wings in both contests and, if not for the play of leading Conn Smythe candidate Chris Osgood – whom we talk about more in Monday’s edition of the THN Shootout video – Pittsburgh quite conceivably could have earned the split they were after.
What the Pens never seemed to be able to do in Detroit was sustain momentum after seizing it. There were definitive stretches where the home side was on its heels, but Pittsburgh couldn’t kick them over. And when it looked like the Pens were ready to claw back in the third period of Game 2, Marc-Andre Fleury let the air out of the comeback balloon by whiffing on Justin Abdelkader’s floater.
Clearly, that’s something that cannot happen again.
A scene shift alone won’t get Pittsburgh back in this battle, but they will benefit from a home crowd that doesn’t need much prodding to get crazy and some other more tangible advantages to playing in your own building.
“They’re going to have the last change,” said Wings blueliner Brian Rafalski after Game 2. “So we’re going to be playing with different matchups and we’re going to have to be sharp.”
The Pens won Game 3 last year, but didn’t have the juice to take two on home ice. There’s a sense they can completely return serve this time around and leave us all watching a best-of-three. To do that, they’ll need to take all those differences people are talking about from this year to last and actually make them matter.
Ryan Dixon is a writer and copy editor for The Hockey News magazine, the co-author of the book Hockey’s Young Guns and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog appears Thursdays and his column, Top Shelf, appears Wednesdays.
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