Justin Abdelkader reacts after scoring a goal against the Pittsburgh Penguins during Game 2. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
DETROIT - This is Detroit, minus an MVP-caliber piston.
This is Detroit, a place the Red Wings have been outshot in consecutive games now after allowing more shots than they fired just five times on home ice all year before the Stanley Cup final.
This is Detroit, a place where the assembly line lives on, as seen by the contributions of Justin Abdelkader, Darren Helm and Jonathan Ericsson.
This is Detroit, site of some magical switch only Chris Osgood knows the location of.
This is Detroit, not playing its best hockey, but winning hockey games because that’s just what Detroit does.
The Red Wings are out to a 2-0 Cup final lead, but not because they turned in two flawless efforts against the Pittsburgh Penguins. Detroit is in the driver’s seat because its goalie makes every save he has to and some he shouldn’t.
“Ozzie is always there for us and he’s always making the big saves when we need them the most,” said Helm after his team’s 3-1 win in Game 2. “We need that from a goalie, from Ozzie and we expect that from him every game because he’s that good.”
So is Pittsburgh’s Marc-Andre Fleury, only he hasn’t been. A case could be made Fleury was the victim of some bad bounces in Game 1, but muffing Abdelkader’s floater early in the third period of Game 3 was exactly the kind of thing a goalie cannot do at this time of year against this type of team.
“I wasn’t able to read it…but I’ve still got to make key saves,” Fleury said of the play. “In the playoffs, you always need the goalie to play well and make those key saves for the team and I’ll do my best to do more next time.”
The Wings are succeeding because, in lieu of having superstar Pavel Datsyuk and all-time grinder Kris Draper in the lineup, they’ve got Helm representing parts of both players in his terrific all-around game.
“I think Helmer has been great,” said Detroit coach Mike Babcock, who bumped Helm up to the second line at times as a reward for his play. “Helmer’s been given an opportunity. Pavel’s a Hart Trophy candidate; obviously a real good candidate for us. Without him, if you don’t have someone to fill in, the same with (the injured Andrea) Lilja, if you don’t have someone to fill in on Ericsson (when he was hurt), you can’t be successful.”
It takes some breaks, too. The Pens have hit some posts, been eaten up by some bounces and watched their goalie give up an absolute back-breaker to Abdelkader. The Wings are also benefiting from the fact that, prior to some last-second rough stuff in Game 2, the officials have been very lenient through the first two games of the series. Not having to kill many penalties is a good thing for Detroit because that’s one of the rare things it struggles to do. However, in 18 post-season games, the Wings have surrendered just 21 even-strength goals.
Not to be forgotten in this discussion of favorable fortune is the fact Detroit exploits every crack it sees and has done plenty of honest work in the past to curry good favor with the hockey gods.
“Well, we’ve actually gotten the breaks so far and we’ve found ways to get them in the back of the net and you need to do that,” said defenseman Brian Rafalski.
So this was Detroit, a place Sidney Crosby was held pointless thanks to a lot of hounding from Henrik Zetterberg and a few pucks off the iron.
And now it’s off to Pittsburgh, where the Pens will, predictably, have Evgeni Malkin in the lineup for Game 3 despite the fact he initiated a fight with Zetterberg in the dying seconds of Game 2. The league quickly moved to rescind the one-game suspension that can accompany instigating a fight in the last five minutes of the third period depending on the circumstance of the game.
Crosby didn’t want to leave Detroit down 0-2, just like he did last year, but believes there’s reason for optimism.
“It doesn’t feel good, but at the same time we know our game can be successful,” he said. “We truly believe that if we play the same way, we’re going to come out on the right side of things. We would have liked to have different results, but that’s playoff hockey so often, when teams are that good and when you get to this point. We’ve just got to make sure we stick to things and keep playing the way we are and bear down on our chances.”
Game 2 THN 3 Stars
1. Chris Osgood
2. Darren Helm
3. Justin Abdelkader
Game 2 Defining Moment: A weak shot from Abdelkader early in the third period floats past the glove of Fleury, giving Detroit a 3-1 lead and completely sucking the air out of Pittsburgh’s balloon. Meanwhile, for the second consecutive game, Osgood makes a stellar momentum-grabbing glove save on Malkin early in the second period.
Notable Number: Teams that have gone up 2-0 since the best-of-seven format was introduced for the Cup final in 1939 are 41-3 overall, including the Red Wings team that jumped out to a 2-0 lead over Pittsburgh last year.