DETROIT - Facing a hot goalie is usually a source of concern, not confidence.
But the Pittsburgh Penguins have to be encouraged by the fact Chris Osgood was the best Detroit Red Wing in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup final.
That Osgood was the difference in Detroit’s 3-1 victory Saturday night is not up for debate. He was particularly stellar early in the second period, when the game was tied 1-1 and his team was not playing well. The Pens had several chances to take the lead, including a long breakaway attempt from Evgeni Malkin that was turned away by Osgood’s glove hand.
“It’s huge,” Wings captain Nicklas Lidstrom said of watching your puckstopper stone the other team’s superstar in a tie game. “It gives our team a boost, especially at that moment of the game. The momentum could have swung in their favor, so he came up big and he came up big on other occasions later in the game, too.”
Henrik Zetterberg believes Osgood helps the Wings find a state of Zen.
“He just spreads so much calm and poise and it kind of spreads throughout the team,” Zetterberg said.
For the Pens, the fact Osgood had to make 31 saves – including 13 in the second stanza alone – should trigger a sense of hope that this is a series they can win. Unlike the first two games of last year’s final between these same teams, Game 1 of the ’09 showdown had a distinct up-for-grabs feel. That’s why, despite the loss, Sidney Crosby wasn’t feeling any deja vu.
“No flashbacks,” he said when asked if this game had the same feel as last year’s series-opening loss. “We expected it to be tight and that’s the way it is. I thought we generated some pretty good scoring chances. Our line, I think we’ve got to find a way to get a few more, but they’re a good hockey team and you’ve got to execute when you get them.”
Certainly you could argue Pittsburgh dropped the ball by not winning the feel–’em–out contest that most Game 1s tend to be. The East champs were awful in the faceoff circle, something that directly contributed to Johan Franzen’s game-winner with 58 seconds left in the middle frame.
But the Pens, despite finding themselves in the same 0-1 hole as last season, are further along because both their superstars came to play and you have to believe the bounces won’t conspire against them at the same rate as the series progresses. Pucks starting behind the Pens goal line hit Marc-Andre Fleury and went in the net. Ones originating from behind the Wings’ goal line floated up in the air and eventually settled between the 3 and 0 on Osgood’s back.
The Pens have to be mindful of the lively boards at Joe Louis Arena. They can’t let Detroit dominate them to the same degree in the faceoff circle. And they have to know, even when the Wings inevitably crank it up in Game 2 Sunday night, they’ve got the stuff to keep up.
Crosby answered swiftly and clearly when asked if he and his teammates left this loss more confident in their ability to compete with Detroit than after last year’s initial setback.
“Yeah, definitely,” he said. “We made a few mistakes tonight and so did they. They got a few bounces, that’s what it came down to. This is tight hockey. We didn’t expect to come in here and have it be easy. We knew we were in for a tough series.
“But we believe in our game. It didn’t go the way we want it to tonight. But the good thing is we’ve got a short period of time here to prepare and get ready for Game 2. We’re confident that we can get one here and go home.”
Game 1 THN Three Stars:
1. Chris Osgood
2. Johan Franzen
3. Evgeni Malkin
Game 1 Defining Moment: Malkin has a breakaway from his own blueline in, but can’t beat Osgood over the glove. The game stays tied 1-1 at a time when it could have tilted in Pittsburgh’s favor.
Notable Number: Detroit won 39 of 55 faceoffs for a 71 percent success rate.