Penguins can come back but only if ...

If they wilt, they will have only themselves to blame this time around

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DETROIT -- Only one team in Stanley Cup final history has gone on to win the title after losing the first two games on the road. The Penguins have a decent chance of becoming No. 2, especially if goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury decides to finally, you know, show up.

They're going home for Games 3 and 4. The Mellon Arena crowd will provide a big lift for a hockey club that's a bit down and disheartened this morning after another tough 3-1 loss at Joe Louis Arena last night. The Penguins will get the last line change and be able to get Sidney Crosby -- held without a point in the first two games -- away from the Red Wings' suffocating Henrik Zetterberg. Fleury -- who gave up an absolutely horrendous third-period goal last night that devastated his team -- won't be victimized by crazy bounces off the backboards.

"Nothing is over yet," Fleury said late last night. "It's just two losses."

What? You expected to see a white flag waving in the Penguins' room?

"It doesn't feel good," Crosby said of the 0-2 deficit. "But at the same time, we know our game can be successful. We know if we keep playing the same way, we can come out on the right side."

No sign of a white flag there, either.

Hey, it beats thinking about the alternative.

If the Penguins do wilt under the overwhelming odds against them and come up short in the series, they will have only themselves to blame. Not just Fleury, but every last one of 'em.

That wasn't the case in the Cup final last season when the Red Wings smacked them down in six games and clearly were the superior team. These Red Wings aren't nearly as powerful as last season's extraordinary model. They're not even as strong as last month's team, although you might not realize it the way they won last night and in Game 1 Saturday night, 3-1.

The Penguins couldn't have asked for more favorable circumstances to start the series. It was moved up six days from the original schedule. The Red Wings had one fewer day of rest, no small factor with Games 1 and 2 on consecutive nights. They also were playing without centers Pavel Datsyuk (foot) -- a finalist for the Hart Trophy as the NHL MVP -- and four-time Cup-winning center Kris Draper (groin).

Think of the Penguins without Evgeni Malkin and, say, Max Talbot.

"I think it hurt us. Don't kid yourself," Detroit coach Mike Babcock said. "I thought we were exhausted out there tonight. It's amazing what will does for you. We talked about that before the game. You've got to will yourself through and grind it out. We'll get a day off tomorrow. We should be a better hockey team going to Pittsburgh ...

"We feel real good about having held service at home."

Are the Red Wings deep or what?

In the lineup only because of the injuries to Datsyuk and Draper, rookie winger Justin Abdelkader scored the late, killer third goal for the second consecutive night. In Game 1, he made a nice athletic play, knocking the puck out of the air with his hand before whacking it by a helpless Fleury. Last night, he merely made Fleury look foolish.

Skating into the Penguins' zone 1-on-2 against defensemen Rob Scuderi and Hal Gill, he threw a sloppy wrist shot on net. The last thing he possibly could have expected was for Fleury to wave at the puck with his gloved hand as it floated into the net.

I'm telling you, you're in real trouble when Justin Abdelkader beats you on consecutive nights.

Actually, you're in real trouble when you get that kind of goaltending.

Really, you don't deserve to win the Cup.

That lame goal allowed by Fleury highlighted the difference between the team's goaltenders. Detroit's Chris Osgood has been sensational. Sure, Osgood had a little luck on his side. Both Bill Guerin and Crosby beat him only to hit post. But Osgood also made brilliant saves on shots by Malkin, Guerin, Crosby and Malkin again. He has been the MVP of the series so far.

If it's not Abdelkader, of course.

Certainly, it was Osgood, who got in the Penguins' heads so much last night that Malkin -- of all people -- took out his frustration by exchanging punches with Zetterberg in the 30 seconds, drawing an instigator penalty and a game misconduct.

Shooting into a brick wall time after time will do that to even a world-class player.

"I think the goalie is the most important player every night," Babcock said.

It's nice to think that goalie will be Fleury in Game 3 tomorrow night and in the games that follow.

It's nice to think Crosby and Malkin finally will solve Osgood.

Each must happen if the Penguins are going to have any chance of joining the 1971 Montreal Canadiens against the Chicago Blackhawks as the only teams to come back in the final from an 0-2 hole dug on the road.

Thirty-one other teams have failed to do so, by the way.

Not to be negative.


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


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