No worries ... Penguins still better


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DETROIT -- The Penguins are down one game-to-none to the Detroit Red Wings in the Stanley Cup final, just as they were last season. They had major difficulties scoring goals in the 3-1 loss at Joe Louis Arena last night, just as they did last season. They were beaten in the second half of the game, just as they were last season.

No worries.

We are not -- say it again, not -- looking at a repeat of last season when the Red Wings looked like the old Soviet Red Army teams and dominated the first two games of the final at home on their way to taking the Cup in six games. It was so ridiculously lopsided early in the series -- the Red Wings won those first two games, 4-0 and 3-0 -- that I remember writing they could win in three.

Not this time.

I'm still thinking the Penguins are the better hockey club.

So are they?

"There are a lot of positives to take out of this one," defenseman Brooks Orpik said as midnight approached. "We played well enough to win. I think everyone is pretty excited about [Game 2 tonight]."

There's no question the Penguins deserved better. They had the better scoring chances even if they did manage to get just the one puck -- off the stick of winger Ruslan Fedotenko late in the first period -- by goaltender Chris Osgood. They matched the Red Wings' physical play and then some; we've come to expect hits such as Orpik's fierce open-ice check on old friend Marian Hossa early in the game, but Sidney Crosby brutalizing the Wings' Henrik Zetterberg? And -- this is really important -- they looked very much at ease lining up against the powerful, defending champions, who, it must be pointed out, were without star center Pavel Datsyuk (foot).

"The bounces just didn't go our way," defenseman Rob Scuderi said. "They scored a couple of weird goals. But if we keep playing like this, we're pretty confident about our chances."

Certainly, there was a much different feeling in the Penguins' room last night than after Game 1 a year ago.

"The big thing is we know what to expect," Scuderi said. "The first two games last year were a bit of an eye opener. We had never played a team that played that well together.

"After we lost the first game, we figured we didn't play our best and that we'd get 'em in the next game. But after about 10 minutes of Game 2, we knew it wasn't us. They were that good.

"We did a good job adjusting after that, but it was too late."

All of that doesn't mean that the Penguins don't have to do their adjusting even quicker now with Game 2 to start in barely more than few hours. Falling into an 0-2 hole again would be a lot to overcome against a great opponent, even one that's weakened by the loss of Datsyuk -- a finalist for the NHL's MVP award -- and veteran center Kris Draper (groin).

It just means that the Penguins are much more capable of getting it done here and going home with a split for Game 3 Tuesday night.

On a lot of other nights, the Penguins would have won this one early in the second period when they fired one puck after another at Osgood. In the first 20 seconds, he made outstanding saves on wingers Chris Kunitz and Bill Guerin. Then, he stopped center Evgeni Malkin on a breakaway about 3 1/2 minutes in. Later in the period, he turned away a good chance by winger Miroslav Satan.

"It easily could have been 3-1 or 4-1," Orpik said.

One or two of those same shots figure to go into tonight.

"Great chances," Guerin said. "Hopefully, we'll bury 'em in the next few games."

Crosby also had an excellent scoring chance in the third period not long after rookie Justin Abdelkader put the Red Wings ahead, 3-1. His shot hit off the post, landed on the sprawled Osgood's back and was covered with Osgood still in the crease by Zetterberg's gloved hand. That could have been a penalty shot for the Penguins, but it wasn't called.

"I've never seen that happen before," Crosby said. "I've never seen the puck stay on the goaltender's back like that."

Penguins goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury wasn't as good as Osgood. Without question, he wasn't as lucky. He knocked in the Red Wings' first goal after a bad bounce off the boards -- shame on him for that because he knows the Joe Louis boards are as lively as any in the NHL -- then knocked in their second goal late in the second period after winger Johan Franzen tried to get a pass to teammate Dan Cleary from behind the net. Even Abdelkader's goal -- you expect Hossa or Zetterberg to beat you, but Abdelkader? -- was unusual. He knocked the rebound of his own shot out of the air with his hand, then lifted the puck over Fleury.

It was that kind of night.

Yes, the Penguins lost.

But the feel here and in their room is that they were hardly beaten.




Ron Cook can be reached at rcook@post-gazette.com .


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