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Babcock sees plenty of differences in '09 Final

by Larry Wigge
PITTSBURGH -- Down 2-0, but ...

Detroit Red Wings coach Mike Babcock says this is a completely
different Stanley Cup Final than last year, even if Detroit has the same 2-0 lead as over the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2008.

"I think this is way different," Babcock explained after consecutive 3-1 wins in Detroit to start the Final. "I think last year the Malkins and Crosbys weren't engaged in the series until Game 3. This year, they were engaged when the first puck dropped.

"This Pittsburgh team has played hard from the drop of the puck. Every inch of the ice is a battle out there with them."

Said Wings goalie Chris Osgood, "They were good last year, but I just think they have more experience this year. They're making smarter plays than they did last year. They stick to their game plan, it seems, throughout the 60 minutes. By no means are we going to say we outplayed them in two games -- they played good hockey the first two games and gave us everything we can handle."

The double jeopardy question is ... --  What does it mean to be down 0-2 after losing the first two games on the road?

Penguins fans aren't going to like the answer. The all-time record of home clubs sweeping Games 1 and 2 of the Final is 31-1.

The only club to win the Stanley Cup after losing the first two games on the road was the 1971 Montreal Canadiens, who defeated the Chicago Blackhawks in seven games.

More gas -- Babcock said he thinks his team can reduce its mistakes ... and bring more.

"Both games, when we've been ahead we haven't had on our foot on the gas," the coach said. "We've been cautious, and careful instead of just going after them. So we'll have to do a better job coming through the neutral zone and attacking in their zone."

Missing that timely effort -- Being more timely in those hotly-contested Stanley Cup Final games is always the key according to Pittsburgh Penguins coach Dan Bylsma.

"I think in each of the first two games, we have been able to play in the offensive zone for periods of time," Bylsma said. "We've been able to get shots, but they've been able to get the timely goals. They've been better at getting pucks in and around the net and getting that goal."

Said Penguins defenseman Sergei Gonchar, who is in his third Stanley Cup Final series (all against Detroit -- in 1997 with Washington and the last two years with Pittsburgh). "There are not a lot of teams that can come here and outshoot the Detroit Red Wings in consecutive games. We've had a lot of chances."

Pittsburgh Penguins Stanley Cup Final GearBehind the mask -- Chris Osgood was asked about his postseason success -- Cup Final record now 10-2 with a 1.47 goals-against average, .937 save percentage and two shutouts in his 13 appearances with back-to-back 3-1 triumphs over Pittsburgh in Games 1 and 2 -- and if he feels he elevates his focus with each game of each series?

"I think you have to," the goaltender explained. "It gets tougher as the series goes along. Games get more and more difficult to win. They become tighter. As we go along in every series and including this one, the games are going to be more and more difficult to win. So you have to be at your highest level of your game.

"Even trying to have that game where you have your best game of your career or attempt to close teams out because it gets tougher and tougher as you go along."

How much different is it than the regular season?

"In the regular season the rinks aren't the same. The playoffs are loud. The atmosphere is great. And you play all the exhibition games and regular season games to get to this point," he added. "I really look forward to it every year coming in."

Game within a game -- Red Wings lead series by two, but are now in Pittsburgh, where the Penguins get the last line change and have the advantage in the faceoff circle where the road team center has to put his stick down first plus the location of the benches.

"They're playing at home matchup-wise, line changes or whatever," said Babcock. "We go first. They can do what they want that way. But really I think we're comfortable. And the other thing about us is we tend to play simpler on the road, so that's a good thing."

Red Wings captain Nicklas Lidstrom was a little more excited about the challenge, saying, "It's a game within the game. Whether you're matching up or you're playing against the top line or top players. I see that as a challenge. That and of course you want to win the game, but you want to play well within that challenge as well."

Back save and a beauty -- Chris Osgood couldn't explain the save he made on Sidney Crosby when Game 2 was still on the line. Neither could Penguins coach Dan Bylsma.

"The great thing about hockey is you rarely see the same play twice," Bylsma said. "It's unique every game, every situation, every bounce. If you just want to see something new, watch the next game."

Malkin continues to roll -- With his goal in Game 2, Evgeni Malkin
reached 30 points in this playoff season on 13 goals and 17 assists. In the process, he becomes the first player to post 30 points in a playoff year since Joe Sakic led the Colorado Avalanche with a league-high 34 points in 1996.

"Being on a line with him, I learned quickly that it's hard to get the puck away from him because he's crafty and quick," linemate Ruslan Fedotenko said. "He's becoming more and more determined to be the best in the game -- and he's so big, so strong, so fast that with all the rule changes, you'd almost have to tackle him to stop him."

No miracle worker -- The Penguins continue to expect Marc-Andre Fleury to give them the key saves like the Red Wings are getting from Osgood.

"We've got you a lot of confidence in Marc. We know he's going to bounce back," defenseman Kris Letang said. “Everyone's expecting him to be a miracle worker, but we believe he's going to bounce back. And we believe in him."

Buggers? Yes buggers -- The ultimate compliment for Detroit's team defense from Penguins coach Bylsma.

"They've been better at that net front area and getting the loose
pucks. That's a credit to them. That's how they play. They've got the dirtier goals. And that a lot of times is what playoff hockey comes down to," said the Pittsburgh coach. "They defend like buggers, they've got great sticks. They've made it tough in that area, and they've gotten to the net and made one more bounce."

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