DETROIT -- Of all the familiar names up and down the Detroit roster, all the stars, all the Stanley Cup rings and NHL trophies, it would be nearly impossible for all but the most ardent follower to pick out Justin Abdelkader.
A 22-year-old rookie who was playing in his 12th NHL game, eighth in the playoffs, Abdelkader was centering the Red Wings' fourth line last night.
That's a little like being the third person on a date.
"I told him I might not be able to get him a shift in the first period," Detroit coach Mike Babcock told Abdelkader before Game 1 of the Stanley Cup final against the Penguins at Joe Louis Arena.
Abdelkader got on the ice for nine shifts totaling 5:10, but he made sure people will remember one early in the third period.
That's when he scored his first NHL goal -- playoffs or otherwise. It ended up being the final goal of the game as Detroit won the Stanley Cup series opener, 3-1.
Strangely, it might not be the highlight goal of his short career.
In 2007, he scored the winning goal for Michigan State with 18.9 seconds left as the Spartans came from behind to beat Boston College, 3-1, in the NCAA championship game. He was named Most Outstanding Player of the Frozen Four that year.
"It was right up there," Abdelkader said of the goal last night in comparison. "That [one against Boston College] would be a tough one to beat, but this one is right up there."
Abdelkader, who was a second-round draft pick by Detroit in 2005, centered the fourth line with Kirk Maltby and Ville Leino.
Their ice time was destined to be limited because, as Babcock sees it, the Penguins don't have a typical fourth line. They roll their top three centers -- Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Jordan Staal -- with fourth-line wingers Miroslav Satan and Craig Adams. That makes the fourth line a lot more dangerous than many teams' last line of offense and creates matchup problems for the Red Wings.
But with regular-season leading scorer Pavel Datsyuk, a finalist for league MVP, out because of a foot injury, the Red Wings adjusted and Abdelkader and his linemates got enough time to get the goal, which came at 2:46 of the third period.
Leino, behind the Penguins net, pushed the puck out to Abdelkader, who got put it on net from the right side.
"I actually got a good first shot off," he said. [Goaltender Marc-Andre] Fleury made a good save."
Then things got a little bizarre. The rebound turned into a pop-up. Penguins center Jordan Staal was in place to defend, but he lost sight of the puck in the air.
"I jumped up, grabbed it and pulled it down," Abdelkader said. "I'm glad it went in."
So were his teammates.
"It was great for him," said winger Johan Franzen, who got the winning goal in the final minute of the second period.
"Every time [that line] came out, they spent a lot of time in [the Penguins'] end."
Abdelkader spent a lot more time on the bench, often taking a short skate during stoppages to keep his legs ready.
"It's tough," he said. "You try to follow the play and stay into the game because you never know when your next shift's going to be."
Or when that first NHL goal will come.
Shelly Anderson can be reached at email@example.com or 412-263-1721.