Commentary

So this is what experience looks like

Updated: May 25, 2008, 12:58 PM ET
By Scott Burnside | ESPN.com

DETROIT -- In the NHL playoffs, experience is a little like art. You may not know how to describe it, but you know it when you see it.

Like when the Detroit Red Wings shook off a controversial disallowed goal in the first period and went on to beat the Pittsburgh Penguins 4-0 on Saturday to open this Stanley Cup finals series.

Ah, so that's what experience is all about.

Indeed, much of the pre-series discussion centered on experience. The Wings have a ton; the Penguins have, relatively speaking, none.

Would it matter? Was it all just media hype?

Detroit answered that question emphatically after Game 1: Yes, it matters a great deal.

"I don't know if it was the nerves, but definitely that was the worst performance of the playoffs," Pittsburgh coach Michel Therrien said. "We didn't compete like we were supposed to compete. And it's a good lesson."

Now the question facing the Penguins heading into Monday's Game 2 is whether their manhandling in Game 1 will serve as enough of a learning experience to stay competitive in this series because the Red Wings announced loud and clear they're very much on task.

"This is called adversity," Pittsburgh forward Max Talbot said. "It's going to be a long series and we're definitely going to make it a long series."

In what would be a harbinger of things to come, Pittsburgh netminder Marc-Andre Fleury took an awkward tumble coming out onto the ice to start the game. He rebounded to play a sound first period, stopping all 11 shots he faced. In fact, both Fleury and his counterpart Chris Osgood had to be sharp to keep the game scoreless through an entertaining first frame.

After that, though, this contest was men against boys or, more to the point, experienced men against a team of boys who looked eerily similar to the Penguins of last season, when they looked befuddled by the playoff experience in losing in five games to the Ottawa Senators in the first round.

This team has prided itself this spring on being far removed from that earlier squad, but the Red Wings forced them into a nasty bit of déjà vu.

"Obviously, every time you go further in the playoffs, you meet quality teams," Therrien said. "And there's no doubt, this is the best team we're facing right now. That's why we're here."

How did the Red Wings' experience manifest itself?

Well, after Tomas Holmstrom was whistled for goaltender interference with 4:40 left in the first period, negating a Nicklas Lidstrom goal, Detroit killed off the penalty. Then, in the second period, the Wings dominated the Penguins, outshooting them 16-4. The Penguins managed just seven shots over the last two periods after registering 12 in the first.

[+] EnlargeSidney Crosby
Bruce Bennett/Getty ImagesSidney Crosby and the Penguins now trail in a series for the first time this postseason.

The Wings' experience was also evident in their first goal of the game as they took advantage of a long shift and a bad line change by the Penguins' third line. As Jordan Staal and Tyler Kennedy struggled to the bench, the Wings sent the puck deep into the Pittsburgh zone and Mikael Samuelsson scored on a wraparound.

Samuelsson would score the Wings' second goal, pouncing on a loose puck after Fleury, Rob Scuderi and Evgeni Malkin managed to treat the puck like a live hand grenade in front of the Penguins goal.

Although the Penguins had a couple decent chances in the third period, the Red Wings allowed nothing in the way of sustained momentum, simply shutting down almost every rush and making the vaunted Penguins attack look tepid and ordinary.

So, that's what they mean by experience.

Ironically, Babcock was asked about how much his team's experience was worth just Saturday morning.

"We're going to find out," Babcock said before Game 1. "When you've done something, you're not overwhelmed by the situation. You've just been through it. You understand it. So, I think you're more likely to be prepared for what you're going to face. Does that guarantee success? No."

The sobering results of Game 1 reveal just how ordinary the Penguins' Eastern Conference opponents truly were. As much as the Penguins dominated Ottawa, New York and Philadelphia, they were themselves dominated in a way that has been alien to them throughout the postseason.

"We're a different team than what they played before," Osgood said. "The Rangers would have been the closest to that. Ottawa dumps it quite a bit. Philly definitely does. And we possessed the puck. And I just think they hadn't seen it before. I think we do it better than any other team in the league and that's what makes our defense so good."

In the two previous losses this spring, the Penguins weren't outplayed like they were for much of Game 1 versus Detroit and now find themselves in foreign territory. They have never trailed in a series this spring.

How do they respond?

Depends on what kind of experience they have gleaned from their first hard lesson of the Stanley Cup playoffs.

Scott Burnside is the NHL writer for ESPN.com.

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