PITTSBURGH (AP) -If the Pittsburgh Penguins need inspiration and motivation - and, boy, do they ever, down 2-0 to Detroit in the Stanley Cup finals - perhaps they can get it from Red Wings coach Mike Babcock.
The young and perplexed Penguins' world-class scoring talent not only was stifled but shut out in two games in Detroit and, since his team's 3-0 loss in Game 2 on Monday night, coach Michel Therrien has worn a look that is part exasperation and part disbelief.
Heading into Game 3 on Wednesday night, in an arena where they haven't lost in more than three months, maybe Therrien and the Penguins should consider this: recent history suggests the finals not only aren't over, but may only be starting.
In 2003, Babcock's Anaheim Mighty Ducks were being written off after New Jersey goaltender Martin Brodeur shut them out by identical 3-0 scores, just as these Penguins are after being held blanked twice by Chris Osgood. New Jersey's trip to Southern California was seen as a mere formality, with the Devils expected to return home with the Stanley Cup firmly in tow a few days later.
Instead, the Ducks won two overtime games in the Pond, and a series that appeared ready to last the minimum four games instead went the maximum seven. The Devils finally won the Cup, but only by winning all four games in the Meadowlands.
So are the Penguins already finished? Have they been upstaged and unraveled by an older, more experienced and more Cup-worthy team? Maybe not yet.
"We have a lot of guys who are capable of scoring and making things happen," Sidney Crosby said Tuesday, not even 12 hours after the Penguins returned home from their two worst games of the playoffs. "And our confidence is fine. We all believe in each other."
The Penguins can't block out all the talk that they're done before they've even scored their first goal - as they exited the ice following an optional practice, a TV in the players' lounge blared doom and gloom forecasts that the series won't see a Game 5 in Detroit.
Despite how badly they played in Motown, the Penguins are convinced that one goal, one opportune power play, one break might be all the lift they need. They've won their last 16 home games, counting their final eight during the season, and goalie Marc-Andre Fleury hasn't lost there at home in more than six months - he's 18-0 since a Thanksgiving eve loss to New Jersey.
Those numbers don't conceal all that went wrong in Detroit, the scoreless streak that is approaching 136 minutes, the Penguins' inability to generate any speed or scoring chances through a neutral zone that must seem like it's clogged with a dozen Red Wings. Or the fact that 30 of the 31 teams that previously won the first two home games went on to win the Cup.
The Penguins also realize that unless Crosby can start finding the net, or star Evgeni Malkin stops looking like he can barely get up and down the ice - he has all of one shot in two games - that all the breaks and bad bounces and perceived Red Wings obstruction won't matter at all. Malkin's line didn't get a shot in Game 2, other than those physical ones applied by the Red Wings' omnipresent defensemen.
Malkin, a Conn Smythe Trophy favorite with 19 points in 14 games before this round, acknowledged several days ago that he is worn down by the Penguins' extended playoff run. At least two more games against the Red Wings aren't likely to supply a pick-me-up.
"It's tough to generate offense," Therrien said. "And you need to score dirty goals. 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."
The Penguins, who now must win four of five games to raise the Stanley Cup, also realize that if they don't win Game 3, the series is effectively over.
"This is an important game, let me put it this way," Therrien said.
"Nobody's going to tell you it's not a must win - you go down 3-0 in a series against that team, it's going to be pretty tough," Gary Roberts said. "So we've got to believe that you win, you change the momentum, and put it in our favor and then you're right back in the series."
Just like the Ducks in 2003.
Therrien, who shuffled his lines for Game 2, suggested there may be more changes Wednesday, maybe even the first playoffs appearance this spring of defenseman Darryl Sydor, a Stanley Cup champion with Dallas and Tampa Bay. And Crosby and Malkin, linemates much of the 2006-07 season, may be reunited.
But the Penguins realize it will take more than a tweak here and a twist there to blunt the Red Wings' building momentum if they don't start scoring, and soon. Osgood is working on a shutout streak of 137 minutes, 33 seconds and has permitted only 20 goals in 15 games. Osgood didn't see a shot during 5-on-5 play until well into the second period Monday, illustrating how ineffective the Penguins' dump-ins are and how few open-ice rushes they are getting.
"We need to make some dump-ins where we create some physical play and turn some pucks over and get some pucks to the net," Roberts said. "They're not going to be fancy goals we score, we're going to have to work for everything we get. ... For our skilled guys, patience is big."
Detroit hasn't been perfect after opening a big lead in the playoffs, In the opening round, the Red Wings led the Predators 2-0, only to lose twice in Nashville. In the Western Conference finals, Detroit led Dallas 3-0, then lost the next two games.
"It's a crucial game. It could be a crucial game for both teams, not only for us, but them as well," Therrien said. "I like the confidence of our team in our building. ... That's why we are optimistic."