The Penguins may have lost Game 2 convincingly, but they believed it is there that they started planting the seeds for winning this Stanley Cup Final against Detroit.
"It's going to be a long series here," Penguins defenseman Brooks Orpik
said after his team won Game 3 Wednesday. "Even when we were down 3-0 (in Game 2), you try to pound them as much as possible. It takes its toll, especially a team like this that has a lot of older guys."
The Penguins dished out 39 hits in the 3-0 loss in Game 2 and took some message-taking penalties in the third period. Two nights later -- in a 3-2 win in Game 3 -- the Penguins delivered another 31 hits.
Now, with the Penguins back in the series – trailing two games to one with Game 4 Saturday night (8 p.m. ET, NBC, CBC, RDS, NHL Radio) – Orpik and the rest of the Penguins hope that their commitment to playing the body begins to pay bigger dividends.
They believe they saw the fruits of their labor start to appear in Game 3. The Red Wings were a slightly more tentative team at times, unable to skate freely through the neutral zone and forced to pay a far stiffer price to establish a cycle in the offensive zone.
"You just want to keep pounding them," said Orpik, who had a game-high seven hits in Game 3, including one shift in which he delivered four hits within a 30-second span. "You look over there with some of their older guys, they're competitive guys, but they're getting up there (in age). You want to pound on them. It doesn't matter who it is.
"You can see it on their face sometimes. Toward the end of the game, you see (Henrik) Zetterberg, you see (Mikael) Samuelsson, you look at their faces and they can barely get to the bench. They were gassed. The more you can beat on them – in a legal way – it's going be beneficial later on in the series."
Pittsburgh coach Michel Therrien has been stressing physical play throughout the playoffs. He just believes it took his team a game and a half before it really found its stride in the Final. He said it was a case of being overwhelmed by the enormity of the Stanley Cup Final.
But the coach believes his team is good to go from here on out.
"There's no doubt we want to be physical," Therrien says. "And we're both here to play a physical game. But honestly, we're taking it game by game. And we'll see at the end where the result's going to be.
"One thing for me that I see, our team, first of all, is getting better every game. Our team is getting more comfortable every game. Our team's got more confidence every game. And that's a good sign. And I think it's normal, a little bit, too, as well, because we're such a young team. And everything is brand new for them to be in the finals. So the more the series will go on, the more we'll get better."
Detroit coach Mike Babcock, however, does not put much stock into the theory that the Penguins could use a concerted checking to wear his team down.
First of all, his skill players are too slippery to absorb many Detroit checks. And, more importantly, his team is too skilled, as a whole, to allow an opponent the freedom to chase after big hits.
"I thought they were on top of us more (in Game 3)," Babcock said. "I didn't think we executed as much coming out of our zone. I didn't think it was a factor early. I thought it was a factor when we didn't execute.
"Just like most teams, when you get turning pucks over in your own zones, you know they're going to be more physical because they have more opportunity to be."
But when the Red Wings are operating on all cylinders, they can make the type of pinpoint passes that will shred a defense that gets out of position chasing opportunities to deliver big hits.
The Penguins have witnessed the precision of Detroit's offense up close in the first two games, and the players understand that they have to be disciplined in their efforts to exact a physical toll on their opponents.
Take the four-hit shift that Orpik delivered in Game 3, a shift that energized his team and had the Mellon Arena crowd roaring like a jet engine just before takeoff.
"I was kind of within five feet of myself the whole time there," Orpik said. "They made it easy on me."
Don't expect the Red Wings to be so obliging in Saturday's Game 4. The Penguins certainly don't.
The Pittsburgh players know they will have to be reserved in their attempts to punish Detroit, even though their own adrenaline and the urgings of the Mellon Arena crowd will suggest otherwise.
"Especially against a skill team like this, you want to pound on them, but you don't want to take many chances going in the neutral zone," Orpik said. "When you catch yourself going forward, that's when you're going to get out of position. Against a team like this, you have to be controlled because they are so skilled and you don't want to get out of position."
Author: Shawn P. Roarke | NHL.com Managing Editor