I guess all that complaining by Detroit about how the back-to-back games to open the 2009 Stanley Cup final was a distinct advantage for the younger, healthier Pittsburgh Penguins was all a smoke screen.
Because playing two games in two nights did nothing to slow down the defending Cup champion Red Wings, who prevailed 3-1 in last night’s Game 2 to take a 2-0 series lead heading to Pittsburgh for Game 3 and 4.
If the Red Wings are hurting at all, then they possess a ridiculously keen ability to hide their ailments. Star defenseman Nicklas Lidstrom still looks like he has a puck magnet on the end of his stick and fellow blueliner Jonathan Ericsson proved that you don’t need an appendix to score a game-tying goal.
The only hope for the Penguins right now is that injured Hart Trophy finalist Pavel Datsyuk returns to the Wings lineup and somehow screws up the chemistry. The Wings are playing their system to perfection, with dump-ins always getting deep and the Pens’ defensemen struggling to make anything happen other than costly mistakes.
When the Pens’ defensemen aren’t turning over the puck, they’re watching Justin Abdelkader skate into the attack zone unscathed to bury the clinching goal for a second straight game. When players like Abdelkader and Ericsson are scoring goals, there’s really no way to stop Detroit. You can try to get chippy, as Evgeni Malkin did in attacking Detroit center Henrik Zetterberg in the closing seconds of the Wings’ victory (an unprovoked attack that will go unpunished because his name’s not Milan Lucic), but that’s not likely to do much other than put the Wings on some power plays — the only thing that’s been missing from this series, as the referees have pretty much put the whistles away.
Maybe, ironically, the off day between Game 2 and 3 will help the Pens figure out a better approach to taking down the Wings. They’ll have the last change at home, so that should help. But the Wings’ depth means it’s really impossible to fully exploit a matchup. For the Pens to make this a series, they’re going to have to squeeze more out of Malkin and Sidney Crosby, and maybe even play them together more. Pittsburgh needs its players to create plays and not just give up the puck every time they touch it. If they keep doing that, no scheduling quirks or injuries to the Wings are going to help them.