Evgeni Malkin will have to play big tonight if the Penguins hope not to fall behind 3-0 to the Red Wings. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/NHLI via Getty Images)
Game 3 Tuesday in Pittsburgh is, of course, a must-win for the Penguins – when you’re down 2-0 in a series, that’s a no-brainer statement. But the fact it is a must-win is too bad, because the pressure is now squarely and undoubtedly on the Pens’ collective head and by all rights, it doesn’t deserve to be there.
Detroit is unflappable and has proved yet again how calm, cool and collected a squad it is. But if not for some wacky end-board bounces, a couple of posts here and there and a brain fart by goalie Marc-Andre Fleury, things could be much different.
That’s not to say there aren’t some Red Wings who deserve mention. Chris Osgood, for one, began the playoffs as Detroit’s lone question mark, but is now the No. 1 Conn Smythe Trophy candidate (with Henrik Zetterberg and Johan Franzen next in line on the Wings). And then there’s Darren Helm, who may be the story of the playoffs. If everything stays the same, he’s en route to having his name on the Cup two times before playing 25 regular season games.
It’s hard to say what the Pens need to do to win Tuesday night that they haven’t already done. They’ve outshot Detroit both games - more than keeping up with the deeper Wings - but what they haven’t managed to do is put their skates on their opposition’s throat when the opportunity has arisen.
Up 1-0 in Game 2, Osgood stoned leading scorer Evgeni Malkin on a one-timer from the slot. If that goes in, the game might be, for all intents and purposes, over. But instead, Detroit was buoyed by Osgood again. Jonathan Ericsson – Black Ace No. 2 – scored on the next shift to tie the game and take the momentum back.
Simply put, Detroit has played with aplomb and capitalized on its opportunities; Pittsburgh has been snake-bitten and stoned by a goaltender looking to shut up his detractors and add to his potential-Hall of Fame resume.
Detroit coach Mike Babcock has praised Pittsburgh’s play, saying the team came out much better in Games 1 and 2 this year than last, but the Pens simply haven’t been able to get the undermanned Wings off their game plan.
Maybe the Mellon Arena crowd will be able to do so. More likely, it will be the ability of coach Dan Bylsma to get Sidney Crosby away from Zetterberg. It’s no coincidence Crosby has been on the ice for 42:11 through two games and Zetterberg 46:06. ‘Z’ saw the ice during all or part of The Kid’s 25 shifts in Game 1 and the story was much the same in Game 2. And with Crosby running into Nicklas Lidstrom when he can get away from Zetterberg, it’s no wonder he’s been kept off the scoreboard thus far.
There are those who say you’re not out of a playoff series until you’ve lost a game at home. Well, down 2-0 in a best-of-seven for all the marbles is no enviable position. (Only three of 44 teams have ever come back to win a final series after going down 2-0.) But if the Pens can claim victory Tuesday evening, they’ll have the momentum going into Thursday’s Game 4.
If the Pens are going to stage a comeback, it goes without saying: Crosby will have to lead it. If he can’t, we might very well have a sweep on our hands.
As a side note, it’ll be interesting to see how Malkin comes out in Game 3 after nearly being suspended for instigating a fight with Zetterberg in the dying seconds Sunday. Will he continue playing with an edge unlike any we’ve ever seen in him? Or will he play timid? It’s a new Malkin; expect nothing less than stellar play.
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