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PITTSBURGH -- This is supposed to be the NHL's dream matchup for the Stanley Cup finals. The talented Pittsburgh Penguins against the tradition-rich Red Wings with more than enough star power to persuade even the most casual fan to switch off the NBA playoffs and turn on hockey.
So far, it's been a one-sided dud, with Detroit delivering two dominating and defensive-driven victories and the Penguins delivering ... well, mostly empty promises and some late-game punches that illustrate the growing frustration of a good young team that is playing badly.
The series that hasn't yet started for the Penguins shifts to Pittsburgh for Game 3 on Wednesday night, a can't lose-win game if there ever was one for the perplexed Penguins. They are 8-0 at Mellon Arena in the playoffs and 16-0 since late February, but one loss there dooms almost any chance of them hoisting the Stanley Cup for the first time since 1992.
The Penguins - winless, scoreless and mostly clueless to date against the more experienced, more polished Red Wings - already face the unenviable task of winning four of the next five to win the series. Trying to win four of four would be almost impossible, and they know it.
"It's a huge game," the Penguins' Gary Roberts said. "You go down 3-0 in a series against that team, it's going to be pretty tough."
Tough? Hasn't it been tough enough already for Pittsburgh, given the Red Wings' 7-0 lead in goals and the fact the Penguins haven't led for a single second since Game 5 of the Eastern Conference finals against the Flyers?
So far, the Red Wings have frustrated the Penguins not with a neutral zone trap - no, these aren't the Devils - but rather a neutral zone clamp. The Penguins often generate their offensive momentum by using their considerable speed to race through the neutral zone, but the Red Wings' wealth of defensive talent isn't allowing that to happen.
Whenever Sidney Crosby gets the puck, it seems as if Henrik Zetterberg, Tomas Holmstrom and Nicklas Lidstrom swarm him within one stride. Evgeni Malkin, the NHL's second-leading scorer during the season, looks tired and confused with only one shot in two games. Some other Penguins forwards already look worn down by Niklas Kronwall's open-ice hits. The few shots that get through are being turned aside by Chris Osgood.
As a result, the NHL's so-called team of the future is being upstaged and unraveled by an older, more experienced and more Cup-worthy team.
Detroit coach Mike Babcock isn't promising two victories in Pittsburgh and the first Stanley Cup-raising in Mellon Arena history on Saturday night, but does offer this: The Penguins haven't seen the best of the Red Wings yet.
"We have a plan, and until that plan needs to be changed, we're going to stick with the plan we have," Babcock said. "And our guys are committed and determined, and we'd like to have success. That doesn't guarantee anything. But we'd sure like to have success."
An interesting twist: The last time a team was shut out in the first two games of the finals, Anaheim in 2003, the Ducks went home and won twice in overtime against New Jersey. The Ducks' coach was none other than Mike Babcock.
Think the Penguins aren't glad to be home? On Saturday, more than 13,000 fans paid $5 each to sit in Mellon Arena - more than the team averaged during the 2003-04 season - and watch Game 1 from Detroit on the arena's video boards.
No wonder Babcock knows this series may not be close to being done, not with Penguins goalie Marc-Andre Fleury riding an 18-game, six-month home ice winning streak that dates to Nov. 21.
"Their guys are going to say, `OK, we're a good team at home. We're 8-0 at home. Nothing's happening in this series as long as we hold serve, that kind of thing,"' Babcock said. "That's exactly what happened (in 2003), suddenly, the series was the best of three."
The Penguins' problem is they haven't gotten the best of anything to date, although they showed signs of life in the final two periods Monday by generating as many chances as the Red Wings got. The problem was Detroit already led 2-0 by then and went on to win 3-0.
Asked if he finds that embarrassing, Crosby said, "It's 2-0 and we haven't scored. So we have to find ways to score goals. To be honest, I'm not too worried about people's perceptions. I'm worried about playing hockey and winning hockey games."
By the end of Game 2, it appeared that the Penguins were more interested in sending a message to the Red Wings that they wouldn't be shoved around, starting several skirmishes. One developed after Roberts took a borderline cheap-shot hit against Johan Franzen, who came back Monday after being out for six games with recurring headaches.
"I guess you're trying to send a message or whatever. To me, the game's going to be won in between the whistles," Babcock said. "And you're not going to back us off one inch."
Especially not if the Red Wings win Wednesday, which would put them only one victory away from a fourth Stanley Cup in 11 seasons. Detroit ended each of its previous three playoff series this season on the road.
"This is an important game, let me put it this way," Penguins coach Michel Therrien said.
|May 24 '08||PIT 0 at DET 4||M. Samuelsson|
|May 26 '08||PIT 0 at DET 3||B. Stuart|
|May 28 '08||DET 2 at PIT 3||A. Hall|
|May 31 '08||DET 2 at PIT 1||J. Hudler|
|Jun 02 '08||PIT 4 at DET 3 - OT||P. Sykora|
|Jun 04 '08||DET 3 at PIT 2||H. Zetterberg|
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