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Red Wings transition into a winner in Game 2

by Larry Wigge

"We knew this was going to be a game of will. The speed made the game flow go from end to end. First it was all us. Then all them. Momentum back and forth."
-- Mike Babcock

DETROIT -- The pace was electric. It was at times a race from end-to-end. The action was frenetic. The transition was non-stop.

Transition. Transition. Transition.

Game 2 of the Stanley Cup Final never had the look of a low-scoring game. There was a flow to the action and an intensity befitting the matchup of two high-powered offenses. The competitive juices were boiling over … on both sides.

But we're right back where we were last year. With the Red Wings beating the Penguins 3-1 in Game 2 Sunday night, Detroit has a 2-0 lead in the Cup Final against Pittsburgh for the second-straight year.

Hours before this battle between the Red Wings and the Penguins, three-time Cup champion Brian Rafalski said he wouldn't expect anyone to be asking “where's the offense?" before the series shifts to Pittsburgh for Game 3 Tuesday (8 p.m. ET, VERSUS, CBC, RDS).

"When you come into a series against teams you don't see much of it's only natural that you pay special attention to their great centers, Sidney, Evgeni Malkin and Jordan Staal. A sign of respect," Rafalski said. "We still respect them like I'm sure they respect our forwards, but …"

It was only a brief pause, like the break-neck transition in the game that was to follow, before Rafalski let out an important strong breath of confidence and explained that he expected coach Mike Babcock to activate his defensemen into the offense for Game 2.

"I would think you could say the feeling-out period is over. I think we can take a chance offensively. Bottom line: This should be fun."

Said Babcock, "We knew this was going to be a game of will. The speed made the game flow go from end to end. First it was all us. Then all them. Momentum back and forth.

"It was pretty exciting to watch. You could really feel the electricity in the crowd."

Valtteri Filppula broke a 1-1 tie at 10:29 of the second period and he seconded the motion about how the Wings' transition game helped back off the Penguins at times.

"The quick transition from our own zone is what makes our offense go on most nights," Filppula said. "When we're breaking up the ice, it's hard to stop our speed."

"I've never played in such a fast-paced game," said rookie forward Justin Abdelkader, who scored his second playoff goal in as many nights just 2:47 into the third period to complete the scoring. "I never thought I could have so much fun."

To be truthful, neither team backed down. But the Red Wings did back the Penguins off a few times with the speed and flow they developed through the neutral zone.

"We both thrive on our speed. But tonight it was their turn to back us off a little more," said Chris Kunitz, a winger for the Penguins who saw plenty of the Red Wings when he played in Anaheim for parts of the last four seasons. "They were in constant motion and when that happens, and they get a lead, they kind of feed off the energy they've created, making them difficult to slow down. Difficult to beat."

The game-tying goal by Jonathan Ericsson, 4:21 into the second period, was the only point on the score sheet by the Detroit defense, but with Nicklas Lidstrom and Ericsson back for their second games in two nights, there was more confidence, comfort and energy from the blue line.

"Nick is always so calm with the puck and without the puck," Ericsson said of the leader of that Detroit transition game. "He's just in the right position every time, so he's making every work for us."

And a great example of how to work the transition game.

Defensemen making that crisp, on-the-tape outlet pass and stepping up into the offense has been very good for both Detroit and Pittsburgh -- in the regular season and the playoffs. It has particularly been a big part of Detroit's arsenal this season, when you consider that until the last weekend of the regular season, Lidstrom, Rafalski and Niklas Kronwall were trying to make the Wings the first team to have three players in the top 10 scoring for defensemen since Serge Savard, Larry Robinson and Guy Lapointe set the record for the Montreal Canadiens in the 1974-75 season. They failed when Kronwall fell to 11th on that last weekend.

Pittsburgh Penguins Stanley Cup Final GearNo slight to finish behind a Montreal defense that spearheaded six Stanley Cup titles in the 1970s.

Now, after two games of the Cup Final, Pittsburgh's 67 goals still leads the playoffs, followed closely by the Red Wings, with 65. What is an even more interesting dynamic is that Detroit defensemen now have 12 goals and 31 assists in the playoffs, while Pittsburgh D-men were right behind with 11 goals and 31 assists.

Pretty close in every way until Sunday night.

"In every game there's these swings in momentum," Rafalski said. "It's how you react to them and how you weather them. We maybe didn't play as well coming out, but we were able to battle through that and get the goal to tie it up and swing the momentum in our favor."

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