-- For champions, mistakes by the opposition must become mandates to take the fight away from the other team.
The Detroit Red Wings
, the defending Stanley Cup champion, did that masterfully for the second-straight night against a team in the Pittsburgh Penguins
that aspires to knock the Wings from their championship perch.
The result has been back-to-back 3-1 victories at Joe Louis Arena to open the Cup Final, the latter coming Sunday night in Game 2 of the best-of-7 series.
Both games were one-goal games entering the final 20 minutes, but Justin Abdelkader
put each away with an early third-period goal.
Abdelkader's Game 1 goal came off a mistake by Pittsburgh center Jordan Staal
in losing his man. Sunday, Abdelkader turned a 1-on-2 break -- against shutdown defense pair Hal Gill
and Rob Scuderi
, no less -- into a goal when he fluttered a knuckleball past the glove of Marc-Andre Fleury
Now, Detroit takes a 2-0 lead to Pittsburgh where this series will resume Tuesday night with Game 3 at Mellon Arena (8 p.m. ET, VERSUS, CBC, RDS). To get back in the series -- and to have a chance to unseat the champion -- Pittsburgh knows it must eliminate the mistakes that have turned even contests into Detroit victories.
"In these tight games here, every turnover or mistake out there is critical," Detroit defenseman Jonathan Ericsson
told NHL.com. "Both teams have very good offensive guys out there, so I'm not surprised that those things happen."
Ericsson was the beneficiary of one such mistake by the Penguins.
Pittsburgh iced the puck early in the second period to relieve a heavy cycle instigated by the Tomas Holmstrom
line. Then, the Penguins compounded the problem by losing the ensuing faceoff. In the blink of an eye, Ericsson had the puck at the point and Darren Helm
, who won the faceoff clean from Maxime Talbot
, was in front of the net screening Fleury as Ericsson's shot found a hole to turn a 1-0 Pittsburgh lead into a tie game.
Detroit scored the winning goal in Saturday's Game 1 in an eerily similar manner. After an icing and a timeout by the Pens, Sidney Crosby
lost the ensuing faceoff and several seconds later, Johan Franzen
scored to give Detroit a 2-1 lead.
, who assisted on Franzen's game-winning goal Saturday, was surprised that Pittsburgh coach Dan Bylsma
did not call a timeout in Sunday's scenario. As a result, the Red Wings were looking to take advantage of a five-man Penguins unit that was clearly gassed.
"You know they are tired, especially with us grinding on them like we had been," Rafalski said. “I was kind of surprised they didn't take their timeout there -- I guess that's coach's choice. You can get a better line out there and you can get your matchup.
"You can take advantage of those guys, especially if you can pin them down low. Obviously 'E' made a great shot and Helmer did a good job of screening down low."
Sunday's winning goal -- by Valtteri Filppula
-- came courtesy of a mental error by Evgeni Malkin
, who scored Pittsburgh's game-opening goal and was the Penguins best player throughout.
Midway through the second period, Malkin was on the rush and tried to slalom his way through all five Detroit defenders. Not surprisingly, the puck was stripped off his stick and Malkin took out his frustrations by hauling down Ericsson for an interference penalty in the offensive zone.
The Penguins killed the penalty, but Filppula scored 14 seconds after it expired -- with Pittsburgh's last penalty-killing rotation still stuck on the ice. Marian Hossa
started the sequence with a shot from the half boards that turned into a rebound opportunity for Holmstrom and then a second rebound chance for Filppula, who made an amazing backhand shot as he skated away from the net.
After that, Detroit tightened up in the defensive end and rode out Pittsburgh's desperate surges in the final 25 minutes of the game.
And it's not like Pittsburgh didn't have chances. Both Bill Guerin
and Crosby hit posts on shots that could have just as easily produced goals.
"In every game, there are 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 swing momentum in our favor. You have to be able to do that."
In the first two games, Detroit has swung momentum by converting on mistakes. Pittsburgh would like to believe it has played the defending champs on even footing in the first two games -- and both the numbers and the comments of Detroit coach Mike Babcock back up that assertion.
In fact, many believe that Pittsburgh has played two very good road games, out-shooting Detroit in each. But such assertions are of little solace to these Penguins, who understand the task that lies ahead -- a daunting gauntlet that will require nothing less than winning four of the next five games against a team that has won four Stanley Cups since 1997.
"We can say whatever we want, but we are down two games to none," Talbot said. "We need to go home and get a win."
And now they know their best chance to do that is to stop allowing Detroit to show off the killer instinct at the heart of any champion.