DETROIT -- This time, the Penguins said, it would be different.
And it is.
In some ways, at least.
Just not the one that matters most.
Their 3-1 loss to Detroit in Game 2 of the Stanley Cup final at Joe Louis Arena last night means the Penguins trail the Red Wings, 2-0, in the series for the second year in a row.
And at this point, that's all counts.
Never mind that the Penguins aren't being fazed by the stresses and distractions of the Cup final, as they were in 2008. Or that they have outshot the Red Wings in each of the first two games and believe that, at least in Game 2, they were the better team.
"Tonight, I think we outplayed them," defenseman Hal Gill said. "Last year, I think we got outplayed [in Games 1 and 2] pretty badly."
While losing Game 2 was huge, the Penguins could have been faced with a bigger setback.
Center Evgeni Malkin was assessed an instigator minor in connection with a fight with Detroit's Henrik Zetterberg with 19 seconds left in regulation. Per Rule 47.22, Malkin also was assessed an automatic one-game suspension for instigating a fight during the final five minutes of regulation.
That suspension, however, was rescinded by the league office following a review immediately after the game, which is precisely what the Penguins had anticipated.
Indeed, about a half-hour before the ruling came down, captain Sidney Crosby said he was "not at all" concerned the suspension would remain in place.
Down, 2-1, Penguins center Sidney Crosby swoops behind the Detroit net with the puck and emerges to the left of it. He fires a wrist shot to the far side that hits the post and ricochets along the goal line behind goaltender Chris Osgood. Penguins left winger Chris Kunitz barges in for the rebound. Crosby ends up with the puck again and shoots again to the far side into Red Wings left winger Henrik Zetterberg who is in the crease lying on his stomach. Officials halt play and review the shot to see if a goal was scored but confirm non-goal call.
Even with Malkin in their lineup, the Penguins will face a daunting challenge heading into Game 3 tomorrow night at Mellon Arena. Fact is, their best-case scenario isn't very encouraging.
If the Penguins win the next two games on home ice -- hardly a certainty, given that Detroit is 3-1 in its past four visits -- the final will become a best-of-three, with two of those at Joe Louis, where the Penguins had to go to triple-overtime to get their only postseason victory in five tries the past two springs.
Besides, precedent says the Penguins' chances of winning this series can't get much worse even if they lose the next game.
For while the 1942 Toronto Maple Leafs were the only NHL team to rally from a 3-0 deficit in the final to win a Cup, the 1971 Montreal Canadiens were the only one of 32 road clubs to lose Games 1 and 2 of the Cup final and rebound to claim the championship.
The Penguins are not fans of that kind of history at the moment, but they find hope in the knowledge that they overcame a 2-0 deficit in the second round earlier this spring.
"We did it against Washington," left winger Pascal Dupuis said. "Let's win the next game."
If the Penguins are to do that, they will have to figure out how to get more pucks past Red Wings goalie Chris Osgood, who turned aside 31 of 32 shots
"He's been their best player," Dupuis said.
Malkin, who scored on a power play at 16:50 of the first, was the only Penguin to beat Osgood in Game 2. That goal was offset by one from Detroit's Jonathan Ericsson at 4:21 of the second, and Valtteri Filppula scored a controversial winner at 10:29. Seconds before Filppula stuck a backhander under the crossbar, Detroit winger Marian Hossa thwarted Dupuis' attempt to get the puck out of the defensive zone by hooking and slashing him.
"I came out of there with my stick in two pieces," Dupuis said.
No penalty was called, and the sequence ended with Filppula's goal.
"Our guy was trying to get the puck out, and Hossa came in and used his stick to lift [Dupuis'] stick," coach Dan Bylsma said. "You can make the judgment [about whether it was a penalty]. ... We failed to clear it [because of] that hook, and it led to the goal."
Justin Abdelkader gave Detroit some insurance with a goal at 2:47 of the third, leaving the Penguins with virtually no margin for error, even though their confidence in themselves doesn't seem to be shaken.
"Right now, we know what to do," Gill said. "We just have to stick with it, and things are going to go our way."
Dave Molinari can be reached at email@example.com . First Published June 1, 2009 4:00 AM