|If the Penguins are going to be bounce back from a 4-0 Game 1 loss, they would be wise to do their best to keep the puck away from Pavel Datsyuk and the Detroit Wings who dominated Pittsburgh in puck-possession throughout the opening game of the Stanley Cup Final.
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The Wings are the NHL's best puck-possession team, and in Game 1 they gave the young Penguins a lesson on the benefits of controlling the puck. The 4-0 final score didn't come close to conveying the Wings' dominance of the final two periods, in which they out-shot Pittsburgh 25-7 and seemed to control the puck for minutes on end.
Once the Wings took the lead at 13:01 of the second period on the first of Mikael Samuelsson's two unassisted goals, it often seemed as if there were seven or eight Wings on the ice, so smothering was their defensive effort.
"I thought we were tough on their ‘D’ the last two periods of the game," said Wings goalie Chris Osgood, who faced 12 shots in the first period, but only seven in the final 40 minutes. "(We) made them skate back for a lot of pucks. Defense is difficult when guys are hitting you non-stop for 40 straight minutes, and that's what we accomplished. That's why we ended up getting the goals we did."
The Penguins faced little adversity in the first three rounds. They led 3-0 against Ottawa, the New York Rangers and Philadelphia and lost only twice in 14 games on the way to their first Final since 1992. To coach Michel Therrien, there's no question that the Wings are an upgrade from the teams the Penguins faced in winning the Eastern Conference title.
"Every time you go further in the playoffs, you meet quality teams," he said, "and there's no doubt that this is the best team we're facing, right now. They played a really good game. They deserve a lot of credit. In the meantime, we didn't play our game, so I'm expecting a better effort from our team next game."
In order to get past Detroit's smothering defense, the Pens may have to change their tactics. Pittsburgh paid the price for its inability to get the puck deep into the Detroit zone and forecheck – Samuelsson's first goal came after Jarkko Ruutu turned the puck over in the neutral zone rather than dump it in.
"We all have more success when we move our feet," Penguins captain Sidney Crosby said. "In the second period we didn't do that a whole lot. So (we have to) make sure we do a better job of getting the puck forward and moving our feet a little more.
"Yes, I think so. I think we have a lot of speed," he added when asked whether the Pens needed to chip and chase more often in Game 2. "And either we're going to get the puck back or they're going to get called for penalties. There's no other way. It doesn't matter who we play, if we use our speed, we're going to create things, whether it's chances or penalties. Either-or, it's going to help us."
Both of Samuelsson's goals came directly off Penguins' mistakes – Ruutu's in the second and goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury's giveaway early in the third. It's bad enough to make mistakes against an ordinary team, but it's fatal to do it against the NHL's regular-season champion.
"Bad decision with the puck. Bad (line) change. Those are mental mistakes; against a team like the Red Wings, you can't do those type of mistakes,” Therrien said. "I thought we got off to a good start in the first 10 minutes. We had the puck. We were creating some chances. We were able to create some penalties because we were on the puck. (It) would have been nice to score a goal. A power-play (goal) would have given us some confidence. But they really took it over in the second period."
The Penguins know they can expect more of the same from the Wings in Game 2. Detroit, not known as a physical team, out-hit the Penguins 31-25 – a rarity for a team that also controls the puck. The hitting appeared to take a toll on the Penguins, who were buzzing in the first period but seemed to play with diminished vigor as the game went on.
Pittsburgh forwards had a lot of room to operate in the first three rounds. If they learned anything from Game 1, it's that the Stanley Cup Final is a whole new world – one in which they'll have to compete for every inch of space.
"That's playoff hockey," Crosby said of the physical play. "I don't expect it to be easy and skate around freely. I expect that; it's part of the game and I don't think that's changed.
"They played a tight-checking game, but that's playoff hockey. You still have to find a way around that."