DETROIT - Not in their worst nightmares did the Pittsburgh Penguins ever imagine being shut out for the first 120 minutes of the Stanley Cup final.
"I definitely never thought it would be possible," said Penguins defenceman Rob Scuderi, accustomed to watching his star forwards fill the net. "With some of the talent we have here, you'd figure even a lucky bounce. But that's the way it's gone."
There will be much analysis leading into Wednesday night's third game of the Cup final (8 p.m. ET) about why the Detroit Red Wings are manhandling the Penguins. The Wings' patient defensive coverage is luring the Penguins into impatient decisions and ultimately turnovers; the Penguins' forwards are unable to create a sustainable forecheck, etc.
But throw aside the Xs and O's for a moment and consider the most important battle the young Penguins are losing right now - the one between the ears. They appear rattled. Their confident strut, well-deserved and acquired during a 12-2 romp through the Eastern Conference, is no longer.
Remind anyone of the Ottawa Senators after two games with the Anaheim Ducks in last year's Cup final?
The Penguins are searching for answers. Star centre Evgeni Malkin waived away a reporter seeking comment after Monday's 3-0 loss, shaking his head, then lowering it and staring at the floor in clear frustration. There are many culprits in the Penguins dressing room for their early hole in the Cup final, but the 21-year-old Russian is easily the poster boy. Malkin didn't not register a shot on goal in Game 2 and has now gone five consecutive periods without one. This is a Hart Trophy finalist as NHL MVP.
"We have to find a way to put more pressure on their defence," said Malkin's linemate Petr Sykora. "We're playing a different team than we played in the first three rounds. We just have to find way. Our power play has to come up with a goal."
The Penguins power play, a first unit that consists of a fantasy poolie's dream squad, is 0-for-8 in the Cup final after going 0-for-3 on Monday night. Overall, one of the NHL's most feared offensive units has been shut out in back-to-back games for the first time since February 2003. Simply stunning.
"We're surprised," conceded Scuderi. "We came here expecting to get at least one win. But we can either get down on ourselves and struggle in Game 3 or we can regroup and come out strong Wednesday night at home."
Mellon Arena is an appealing refuge after what transpired at Joe Louis Arena. The Penguins are a perfect 8-0 at home in these playoffs and that will be a familiar and constant refrain from Penguins players heading into Game 3 as they attempt to stay positive.
"We're going home right now, home sweet home," said Penguins forward Maxime Talbot, who always exudes positive thoughts. "We play well at home, we're excited for that. It's not like we lost the first two games at home. We lost the first two games on the road. ..
"It takes four wins to take the Stanley Cup. They have two. There's still lots of hockey to be played."