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Something Missing As Pens Lose Game 1

by Staff Writer / Florida Panthers

DETROIT (AP) -Evgeni Malkin on a breakaway, just missed. Miroslav Satan with an open net in front of him, just missed. Sidney Crosby off the post, just missed.

The Pittsburgh Penguins in Game 1 of their Stanley Cup finals rematch against Detroit? Just missed.

The Penguins were certain they had shed the inexperience, the shakiness, the lack of confidence and the unfamiliarity with the championship setting that marked their 4-0 and 3-0 losses in Detroit during the first two games last year.

After goalie Marc-Andre Fleury gave up a soft goal less than seven minutes in to Brad Stuart, they were a much different team than that in those two forgettable losses last May, controlling the play for most of the next 25 minutes.

The problem during their 3-1 loss Saturday night was they also weren't the team that swept Carolina in the Eastern Conference finals and rallied to beat Washington in seven games in the second round. The big plays were mostly missing from Malkin and Crosby, the two leading scorers in the playoffs, and so was their finishing game.

"We had our chances - our chances to win," defenseman Kris Letang said after Malkin and Crosby, with 28 points apiece coming in, were limited to a Malkin assist.

Repeatedly, the Penguins were an inch or two off on a shot, a split-second or two behind on a play and, in Fleury's case, a bit too slow to react to pucks off Joe Louis Arena's notoriously lively boards.

It made all the difference as they lost for the first time in six games and only the second time in 11 games during a playoff surge that was beginning to resemble that of their last Stanley Cup run in 1992, when they won their final 11.

Even co-owner Mario Lemieux could feel it, saying not long before the opening faceoff that, "We have a different mind-set, a different style of play (from 2008) and hopefully this year is our year."

It may still be, but Game 1 - again - wasn't their game, and they now find themselves playing from behind against the NHL's most accomplished group of winners, and without home-ice advantage. The Penguins have only about 21 hours to regroup before Game 2 on Sunday night, unless they want to go home down 2-0 like they did last year.

"When you're on the road, the goal is win one of two, and if we play the way we did in the second period for 60 minutes, we like our chances," forward Max Talbot said. "When they get the lead they're a very good team, so maybe we need to get the lead (in Game 2)."

After the game, Lemieux could be seen huddling in private with 38-year-old Bill Guerin, one of the few Penguins with considerable playoff experience.

"It's a race to four," coach Dan Bylsma said. "They got one."

Unlike those first two games last year, this was a winnable game for the Penguins, who appeared to find themselves once Ruslan Fedotenko tied it late in the first. They controlled much of the second period, but they couldn't convert on the game's first two power plays.

Their biggest missed opportunity came when Malkin, who scored six goals in four games against Carolina, scooped up the puck off a Niklas Kronwall giveaway only to be stopped by Chris Osgood about 3 1/2 minutes into the second. If the Penguins go on to lose the series, they may regret this failed breakaway the way Washington did after Alex Ovechkin was similarly stopped early in Game 7 of the conference semifinals.

"Obviously, it's frustrating, but Geno played a great game," Talbot said.

Later in the period, Bylsma - sensing the next goal might be decisive - played Crosby and Malkin together, something he rarely did even when the Penguins fell behind in the Washington series. Not long after, Satan was in perfect position in front to convert when Pittsburgh caught Detroit in a bad line change, but he couldn't put it in.

"We created a lot of chances, and that's going to be a key the whole series," Letang said.

Maybe the misses wouldn't have made that much difference if Fleury had played better, but two of Detroit's goals deflected in off the goalie's skate and he also didn't react in time to stop fourth-line forward Justin Abdelkader's first playoff goal off a high-bouncing rebound early in the third.

"But it's a different feeling (from Game 1 last year)," Fleury said. "We feel we can win."

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