Red Wings keep getting help they don't really need
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DETROIT -- Even randomly selected collections of empirical hockey evidence might strongly suggest that the Red Wings need zero help to beat the Penguins in this Stanley Cup final.
No Pavel Datsyuk?
No Kris Draper?
A 2-0 series lead constructed in fewer than 27 hours at a work site in downtown Detroit?
That's a big, smelly, flopping octopus of a problem for Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Marc-Andre Fleury and everyone else who was charged with keeping the Penguins from the punching-bag status of an immediate historical repeat.
Thirty-two times a team has won the first two games of the Stanley Cup final at home. Thirty-one times that team has won the Stanley Cup.
You might call that a problem.
But quickly, back to our premise. Yeah, we had a premise.
If the Red Wings clearly need no help, why are they getting it?
Why, when the puck comes off the boards behind Fleury, does it wind up in the net twice in 20 minutes in Game 1? Why, when Marian Hossa is battling Pascal Dupuis for the puck along the boards, when Hossa hooks him so effectively that Dupuis' stick is snapped in half, does play continue with no whistle until Detroit scores a go-ahead goal at 10:29 of the second period? Why does Justin Abdelkader, without an NHL goal to his name, suddenly become The Magical Michigander, swatting rolling pucks past Fleury night after night in this series?
Most particularly, why do the Red Wings get to play with two goalies -- Chris Osgood and Henrik Zetterberg?
The first answer came from Dupuis in the Penguins' dressing room 10 minutes after a second consecutive 3-1 loss.
"Obviously, you're out there, the puck's in the net, and you're thinking that maybe there should have been a call on that play," Dupuis said evenly.
That exact transgression has been called as consistently as any all season.
"You said it," Dupuis said. "I thought, 'Here I am, with two pieces of my stick in my hands, and what, no call?' "
But it wasn't that play that got Penguins coach Dan Bylsma to arrange an intense conference with referee Bill McCreary at the bench just before the third period.
"Actually, I was more concerned with [Zetterberg] being in the blue paint," Bylsma said. "But it was normal talk between a coach and a referee."
Zetterberg's defensive contributions, on the other hand, are abnormal and likely illegal.
You might remember Zetterberg using Osgood as a kind of hamburger grill in Game 1, pressing the puck patty onto Osgood's back as the goalie lay on his stomach on blue ice. That should have been a penalty shot for the Penguins, but somehow went unnoticed. Last night, Zetterberg was there again, going into the fetal position behind the goaltender, covering a Penguins shot with some part of his body other than one of his hands, which were not visible even on video review.
Unlike the first-period tempo in Game 1, called unbelievable by Red Wings coach Mike Babcock, last night's first 20 minutes were contested at a pace that was totally believable. If I didn't know better I'd say both teams looked as if they played the night before.
Oh yeah, they did.
The Penguins didn't bother taking a shot until seven minutes had expired, but once they remembered that part of the game, a pronounced uptick overcame the proceedings, with the Penguins getting 11 of the period's last 12 shots, including the only one that went into either net.
Evgeni Malkin got the credit for a crazed scramble in the crease in front of the fallen Osgood, who was still on his back when the puck flew past at 16:50 for a 1-0 Penguins lead, their first of the series.
Osgood had just denied Chris Kunitz on a good scoring chance and stopped Kris Letang on a nifty feed from Malkin earlier in the period.
"Their goalie's playing good," said Dupuis. "He's playing good, and we're hitting posts."
Detroit's second goal -- enough to win in both games so far -- came seconds after the Penguins had clinically killed off the first Red Wings power play of the night, on which Rob Scuderi and Max Talbot lashed exquisite clearing passes and Craig Adams forced Mikael Samuelsson from the offensive zone. But when Dupuis tried to backhand another clearing attempt with the teams at even strength, Hossa hooked him -- I don't want to say obviously -- but only as convincingly as the protagonist in the "I Know What You Did Last Summer" slasher series. This all happened to the detached bemusement of referees McCreary and Marc Joannette. The puck leaked forward to Tomas Holmstrom, who whipped it into traffic in front of Fleury. It caromed free to Fleury's left, where Vallteri Filppula flicked it home with a lethal backhand.
That's how Detroit got to the dressing room with a lead at the second intermission, and the Red Wings were 10-0 when leading after two. Make it 11-0.
"Everyone in this room," Kunitz said, "believes we have a good chance to win the series."
But the Red Wings keep getting help, and the Penguins are very close to beyond it.
First Published June 1, 2009 12:00 am