Saturday, May 24, 2008

Stanley Cup Game One: Detroit 4 - Penguins 0

Heading into Detroit for the first game in what's thought to be perhaps the most competitive Stanley Cup Finals since the New Jersey Devils took on the Red Wings in 1995, there was a slew of mutual appreciation from both parties. The two teams weren't very familiar with each other, having only played once in the past two years, but they had to respect what the other had done. In the aftermath of the Red Wings 4-0 victory, it's to be sure the Penguins have a much better idea of just why the Wings are to be respected.

After the long lay off, the Joe Louis Arena was buzzing for the puck to drop. A surprising number of Penguins fan secured tickets to the series opener, spotting the red crowd with black jerseys here and there. Enough Penguins fans to hear a slight "Ruu" cheer after Jarkko Ruutu laid now a huge shot block early in the game. But not one's to be outdone the Wings faithful rang down thunderous praises of "Ozzie" after early Penguins scoring chances were thwarted.

An early Red Wings goal was called off due to goaltender interference on Tomas Holmstrom. If you want to read the NHL rulebook word for word, Holmstrom interfered with Marc Andre Fleury by putting his stick in Fleury's equiptment prior to the shot. But if this guy's name is anything but Holmstrom it probably isn't called. That being said, I'm not sympathetic, he has been warned again and again. He's going to continue to do what he does best, but he can't be surprised when it lands him in the box for two.

If you want to point to one moment the Penguins could have stepped ahead, you have to look to the six-plus minutes on the power-play in the first period they came up empty on. The Wings shorthanded approach could not have been any better. They shut down the dynamic Penguins power-play by forcing the play to the perimeter, closing off in front of Osgood, and cutting down any cross ice passes.

Still scoreless in the 2nd period, I, along with about 15 thousand watching from the Mellon arena, and countless Penguins fans else where, let out an audible gasp when Brooks Orpik's stick was lifted in front of Fleury on an icing touch-up. Valtteri Filppula let a snap shot go off the hustle play, but Fleury came up with a big save to keep the Penguins in the scoreless game.

The zero-zero deadlock was broken with 7 minutes left in the 2nd period on Mikael Samuelsson's wrap around goal. It unfolded like it was in slow motion. The Penguins dumped the puck for a line change, but it was intercepted in the neutral zone. I screamed at my television as 48, Tyler Kennedy, and 11, Jordan Staal, continued to glide toward the bench for a change. The play broke the other way and before long the puck was behind the sprawling Fleury.

When the Samuelsson picked up his second of the game early in the 3rd, depositing a bad clear by Fleury in the net from close range, the Wings fell back into their suffocating defensive play. Detroit allowed only 3 shots in the period, despite the Penguins desperate play that opened the game up for 2 insurance markings. One shorthanded on the rush by Dan Cleary, and the other with only seconds left in the game by Henrik Zetterberg on the powerplay.

For the Penguins they are faced with a list of things they must address in time for game two on Monday night. First and foremost is scoring first. They can not allow the Red Wings to settle into that dominant defensive role that they do so well with the lead. The one thing I won't call game two, though, is a "must win" game for the Penguins. It's an over used phrase and a cliche. The Red Wings have grabbed the early lead, but even with the dominant play I don't think anyone's backing away from their predictions of a long series.

You only have to look to the other playoffs going on in the sporting world right now in the NBA to see how the Boston Celtics have survived despite poor play on the road. When it comes to the first four games of a series, winning on the road is a luxury that ends things quicker. The only must win game is a home game.

Game One Recaps

The Pens Blog is ready to set up and rally the troops, something they haven't had to do all playoffs long. Remember when Rudy was so pumped he slammed his head off that brick wall, that's how I feel after this Pensblog.

One the Wings breaks down the victory and the solid Detroit play. It's insightful, and he's no fool. He knows it takes four wins, not just one.

Going Five Hole's Sean Leahy knows the Penguins haven't faced adversity like this all playoffs long, but it just might be the wake up call to light a fire under them.

Game Two is in Detroit, Monday night at 8 pm EST on Versus.

No comments: