Five keys for Penguins heading into Game 3
PITTSBURGH -- We have consulted our Hockey 101 textbook and polled the hockey experts and came to the conclusion that unless the Pittsburgh Penguins score a goal, they have no hope of defeating the Detroit Red Wings in the Stanley Cup finals.
But, seriously folks ...
When you're down 2-0 in the Cup finals and history tells you that you have almost no chance of mounting a comeback, these situations become an exercise in rationalization. Some might call it clutching at straws, but this is still a Pittsburgh team that is undefeated in eight straight home playoff games. They have not lost in regulation at Mellon Arena since Feb. 13, so let's hold off on scheduling that Stanley Cup parade down Jefferson Avenue in Detroit for just a minute.
"Like I said earlier, it's a crucial game," Pittsburgh coach Michel Therrien said after the Penguins completed an optional skate Tuesday morning. "It could be a crucial game for both teams, not only for us, but them as well. I like the confidence of our team in our building."
Here are five things the Penguins must do in Wednesday's Game 3 to get back into this series.
1. Execution over nerves
One of the problems for the Penguins is that their best scoring chances in Game 2 never actually became chances. Jordan Staal hurried a shot and missed the net when he and Tyler Kennedy were alone in front of Detroit netminder Chris Osgood and then couldn't corral a backhand off the end boards.
Through the first three rounds, where the Penguins compiled a 12-2 record, those kinds of plays ended up as Pittsburgh goals most of the time.
"I guess you could say we're a little rattled," Penguins defenseman Rob Scuderi said. "I guess [the confidence] is slightly shaken just because of the way we rolled through the first three rounds."
Whether the young Penguins are nervous or trying to do too much, they have to make good on the chances they get in Game 3.
"Yeah, it's obviously frustrating. You always want to score," Crosby said after he took an early skate alone before the team's workout. "And I think it's the nature of the playoffs. You're not going to get a lot of chances, but when you do get them, you have to make sure you put them in.
"I said it before, but you just need to make sure when you get those chances, you bury them. And it's really what it comes down to. They're not out-chancing us by a whole lot, to be honest. We just need to make sure we put the puck in the net."
2. The neutral-zone battle
The Red Wings are so patient and play so well positionally, especially through the neutral zone, and the Penguins are going to have to match that dedication to detail. Scuderi said he thought the Pens started doing that more effectively in the latter stages of Game 2, having the defense step up, clog up lanes and chip the puck off the boards back into the Detroit zone. It doesn't make for an aesthetically pleasing product, but at this stage the Penguins will settle for ugly success over pretty failure.
"I thought when we went up 2 0, they had a push there," Detroit coach Mike Babcock said. "We got cautious for a period of time. Other than that, we played a pretty good hockey game."
3. Love to hate you
One of the byproducts of the Wings' ultra-disciplined game (they allowed the Penguins just 4:12 of power-play time in Game 2 after 8:11 in the first game) is it has a tendency to suck the emotion out of a game. The Penguins will need to feed off the emotion of playing at home Wednesday, especially if they are afforded early power-play opportunities.
"I think [the] power play could generate some confidence to a team," Therrien said.
Beyond that, the Pens are hoping for a little spillover of emotion from the dustup at the end of Monday's game in Detroit. Veteran Gary Roberts said a little hatred for the Red Wings might not be such a bad thing given the way Detroit likes to control the flow and tempo of the game.
Babcock insisted, though, his team won't be drawn into wasting emotion.
"That's just something at the end of a game. I wouldn't put a whole lot into that," Babcock said. "They can't go to the penalty box; you and I both know that. There won't be any of that. A lot of times when something happens, we make it into that it's going to carry over into the next game, and it never does."
Roberts didn't draw a penalty but did draw criticism after giving Detroit forward Johan Franzen a blind-side punch to the side of the head in the third period of Game 2 (it was Franzen's first game back after missing five games with concussion-like symptoms). Roberts suggested Franzen was either diving or he shouldn't have been in the lineup if a light tap on the side of the head injured him so.
"It's not a punch that should knock a guy like that down," Roberts said.
Asked about that and a couple of tussles involving Franzen, Babcock said this is why teams don't like to talk about injuries.
"What I would say, it makes it interesting," he said. "The league and the media are all about revealing injuries. Do we understand today why you don't? And we talk about respect."
4. Who leads, who follows
Again with the Hockey 101, but it seems imperative the Penguins take the lead in Game 3 if they're going to make this a series. These two teams are actually quite similar in that they prey on the mistakes of their opponents with their skill and shut the door when they have the lead. The most competitive portion of the first two games in Detroit was in the first period of Game 1, when the teams traded a number of stellar chances before the Red Wings opened the scoring later in the second and choked the life out of the Pens with their positional play.
If the Penguins can manage to find a chink in the Red Wings' armor and take a lead, it will force the Wings into more open play, which, in theory, plays into the Penguins' strength of capitalizing on turnovers and odd-man rushes. Apart from the Staal chance in Game 2 (after defenseman Andreas Lilja slipped and fell down), the Wings have allowed nothing close to an odd-man rush.
5. The goalies
Marc-Andre Fleury has to be better and has to be very good early on to give his team a chance to take the lead. This is not to suggest Fleury is at fault for the team's 2-0 series deficit -- did we mention the Pens haven't scored yet? -- but the goals he has allowed came on chances he routinely stopped through the first three rounds.
Then, the Penguins have to find a way to create more traffic in front of Osgood or get him to go side-to-side. To do that, of course, they'll have to get possession of the puck for more than a nanosecond.
The challenge will be in trying to disrupt Osgood without drawing penalties as they did twice in Game 2 with Ryan Malone and Petr Sykora both drawing goaltender-interference calls. Therrien thought both were questionable and accused Osgood of diving.
"It's tough to generate offense, and you need to score dirty goals," Therrien said. "The tic-tac-toe play, sometimes it's going to happen. But most of the time you're going to put the puck at the net and you're going to crash the net.
"This is where it's tough for us," Therrien added. "If [Osgood] is going to go at the players and fall down, it's tough to score dirty goals. And he's good at it."
Scott Burnside is the NHL writer for ESPN.com.
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STANLEY CUP FINALS -- GAME 2
Detroit shut down Pittsburgh again Monday. This time, it was a 3-0 win that showed the Wings taking the life out of the Pens. Check out our Game 2 coverage here:
• Coverage | Recap | Highlight | Conversation
READ• The big red machine: Detroit shut down Pittsburgh again Monday. This time, it was a 3-0 win that showed the Wings taking the life out of one of hockey's most talented teams. Burnside
• Game 2's defining moment: What was the defining moment of Game 2? The 5:24 mark of the second period, when the Pens posted their first even-strength shot on goal. Notebook
• Conn Smythe Watch: Who are the front-runners for playoff MVP? Here's how things stand after Game 2 of the Cup finals. Story
• The Crosby File: How did Sidney Crosby fare in his second Cup finals game? Check out our game-by-game report for the Pens' captain. Story
• The First-Ever Suit Off: The best hockey analyst in the U.S. versus the best hockey analyst in Canada. Mullet vs. buzzcut. It's Melrose versus Cherry in the First Cup Finals Suit-Off! Vote
• Hradek's instant analysis: Gary Roberts' late hit on Johan Franzen didn't earn the veteran forward any points with E.J. Hradek. Blog
WATCH• NHL Minute: Hradek and Burnside's analysis
• Melrose and Cherry break down Game 2
• Chris Osgood on his second straight shutout
• Lidstrom: We can't let up effort in Pittsburgh
• Penguins' reaction after Game 2 loss
• Melrose's instant analysis: Detroit's big D