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March 20, 2019
Worst Rerun Ever
by Michael Menser Dell, Editor-in-Chief
Chris Osgood pitched another shutout in Game Two of the Stanley Cup Finals, stopping 22 shots to backstop the filthy Red Wings to a 3-0 win. Wow, I hate Detroit.
All you'll hear over the next two days is how Detroit is dominating Pittsburgh, and the Penguins are being outclassed, yadda yadda yadda. Don't believe the hype. There's miles to go before this series sleeps.
Pittsburgh had a terrible first period, failing to register a single shot at even-strength. But the Birds controlled the second, finally establishing a dump-and-chase game and using their speed to pressure the Detroit defense. Pittsburgh was the better team in the third stanza too until Valtteri Filppula turned in a spectacular individual effort to ice the game.
If this were a boxing match, I'd have each team with three rounds. Pittsburgh won the first period of Game One, and the second and third periods of Game Two. The problem is Detroit won their three rounds with 10-8 scores, registering all sorts of knockdowns and standing eight counts and whatnot.
After thoroughly dominating the final two periods of Game One, Detroit opened up Game Two in similar fashion, jumping out to a 2-0 lead on goals by Brad Stuart and Tomas Holmstrom. Pittsburgh actually had a great first shift. Gary Roberts set the tone, leading a fearsome forecheck to keep the Wings bottled up in their own end for the first 30 seconds. The teams played on even terms over the next few minutes, but Stuart's goal at 6:55 put the Penguins on their heels.
Filppula worked for the puck at center and lugged it into the Pittsburgh zone, backing the defense off with speed before sliding a nifty pass into an ocean of open ice on the right side. Stuart took the puck in stride and drilled a slap shot from the right circle though a Filppula screen and off Marc-Andre Fleury for the 1-0 lead. Bad goal by Fleury. It hit his stick and popped over him.
Detroit carried the play the rest of the frame, seizing the game by the throat when Holmstrom stole a goal from Henrik Zetterberg at 11:18. The play was a flashback from Game One, as the Penguins had everything under control until a series of self-inflicted wounds.
Adam Hall had possession of the puck along the right wing boards of the Pittsburgh zone. He had his back to the wall and for some reason felt the urge to softly reverse the puck to no one in particular. It turned into a perfect dump for the Wings.
Holmstrom darted behind the net to grab the loose biscuit. Brooks Orpik and Sergei Gonchar both chased Holmstrom, leaving Zetterberg buck naked in front. Holmstrom made a real wizard pass to his countryman, and Zetterberg slipped the puck between Fleury's pads. Holmstrom reached in and vultured it right before it crossed the stripe.
Detroit took the 2-0 lead and a 12-6 advantage in shots into the first intermission. All six of Pittsburgh's shots came with the man-advantage. The Penguins had to kill a penalty at the start of the second, but they gradually began to dictate tempo, shooting the puck deep and chasing. It only took them four periods to figure it out, but better late than never.
You don't beat the Red Wings with fancy plays in the neutral zone. You've gotta get the puck low and punish them. They're very reminiscent of the Dallas Stars and New Jersey Devils teams of the late 1990s, except instead of relying on clutching, grabbing, and blatant interference, the Wings execute their defensive scheme with skating, puck possession, and subtle interference. It's all obstruction all the time. And I'm not the only one to pick up on it.
"It's really tough to generate offense against that team," said Michel Therrien. "They're good on obstruction. It's going to be tough to generate any type of offense, if the rules remain the same. So it's the first time we're facing a team that the obstruction is there, and we're having a hard time skating to take away ice."
Get the puck deep and work. Don't even try to score. Pittsburgh's only intent should be pain. In the immortal words of that great philosopher Mike Tyson: "Everyone has a plan until they get hit."
The last thing on Pittsburgh's mind should be creating offense in the neutral zone. It only plays into Detroit's hands. Gain the line and dump it. And keep dumping it. The goals will come naturally as a product of the hard work. And if they keep their feet moving, they'll eventually get the calls.
By the middle of the second, Pittsburgh started to physically manhandle the Wings, finishing every hit and ramping up the intensity each subsequent shift. The Penguins caught a break when Andreas Lilja blew a tire along the left wing boards in the Detroit zone, resulting in a glorious scoring chance.
Roberts pounced on the puck and drew two defenders to him before spinning a swell behind-the-back pass to Jordan Staal in the slot. Staal pulled the trigger in a hurry, but in trying to shoot around Tyler Kennedy he missed wide of the left post. The puck took a crazy hop and came out on the right side. Staal followed up to backhand a shot off the right pipe. The sequence perfectly summed up the first two games. So close, yet so far away.
The Penguins continued to have the upper hand early in the third and seemed on the verge of making it a hockey game when Dallas Drake took a tripping penalty at 7:49. Pittsburgh's power play had looked good all night, and the turkey was on the table. But before they could halve the lead, Ryan Malone got whistled for goaltender interference just 15 seconds into the man-advantage. Aw, that hurts.
The stage was set for Filppula to work his magic. With the teams skating four aside, Filppula took a pass from Johan Franzen, who mad a triumphant return to the lineup, and streaked into the Pittsburgh zone against Kris Letang. Filppula had a step on the outside and made a brilliant backhand move to cut in front of Letang and dive through the air to wrap a shot around Fleury.
Again, much like Game One, the score was 2-0 in the third with Pittsburgh heading to the power play. If Filppula doesn't go all Bobby Orr on them, the Birds still may have pulled this one out. But he did, and they didn't. Oh well.
But even the wasted opportunity kept the Pittsburgh momentum rolling. The game was really up for grabs until Filppula scored. (Sunshine) Filppula. So I reckon the real turning point was Malone's interference penalty.
Gary Roberts started things off dropping Franzen with a left hand in the third. I'm hoping Franzen is still suffering concussion woes, otherwise he's a giant (sunshine). Roberts barely touched him. He was basically just pushing him out of the way when his left glove hit him in the side of the head. Roberts didn't deliver a blow at all. Like I said, it was more of a push.
When he finally pulled himself up by his pantyhose, Franzen was crying that Roberts hit him with an elbow. That wasn't an elbow, jerky. If Roberts had hit Franzen with an elbow, his head would still be pinballing around Joe Louis Arena.
Not long after, Max Talbot and Franzen got in a scrum. Versus never got a good look at how it started, but Talbot got the extra two, so I'm guessing it wasn't Franzen's idea.
The funniest one, though, came at 16:08 when Ryan Whitney was coasting along next to Franzen after a whistle when he just reached over and popped him in the head. But to be fair, the Penguins heard Franzen's skull was filled with Swedish Fish. Thems tasty.
To Franzen's credit, he took everything in stride. When asked if he thought the Penguins were going after his head, Franzen said: "It's pretty big. So I think so. Hard to miss."
No real blows were landed in the dogpile, but I could have sworn I saw one of those filthy Wings use his stick in the commotion. If these two clubs didn't hate each other, they certainly do now.
Sidney Crosby: He was held off the scoresheet again, but Kid Crosby had a strong game, leading the Pens with six shots. He created plenty of chances, including a wicked spinning backhand pass to set up Malone on their very first shift. Malone fanned on the chance. Story of the series.
Gary Roberts: The old man came to play. He recorded two shots and five hits in 9:33 of ice time. He was a physical presence all night, and he'll no doubt get the Igloo faithful pumped up in Game Three.
Not Evgeni Malkin: When I picked the Pens, I had no idea Malkin would turn into Craig Janney. Another dismal effort from Geno. No shots and a minus-2. And it's not Detroit shutting him down. There's definitely something going on here. If I had to guess, I'd say his left shoulder is ailing again.
"I thought his intention was there tonight," said Therrien of his fading Russian star. "We've got to keep supporting him, and eventually, players like this, usually they find ways."
Chris Osgood: It's tough to argue with two straight shutouts. I'm just amazed he can play at all with that horseshoe shoved up his ass. Every bounce is going Osgood's way at the moment. It won't last.
Niklas Kronwall: He had two more enormous hits. Tyler Kennedy challenged him to fight, but Kronwall wanted none of it. So why give him a choice? If Kronwall is going to run guys, whether the hits are clean or not, he has to pay a price.
Henrik Zetterberg: Zetterberg was his usual stellar self, firing six shots on net and registering an assist.
Pavel Datsyuk: Datsyuk still doesn't have a point in the series, but he's playing real solid two-way hockey. He secured his spot on the honor roll, though, by standing up to Roberts during the late-game shenanigans.
When everyone paired off following Sykora's bump of Osgood, Datsyuk drew the short straw and got Roberts. Hard to get happy after that one. But Pavel didn't back down. He lowered his head and slapped away at Gary. Thankfully, a linesman was holding Roberts at the time, otherwise Datsyuk would be dead. And that's no exaggeration. Roberts would have killed him. Then Gary would have walked to Russia and killed Datsyuk's family, friends, and pets.
Needless to say, the Pens weren't amused with Osflop's monkeyshine.
"We took two penalties tonight on the goalie," groused Therrien. "We never take penalty to the goalie in the playoff. I'll tell you something, I reviewed those plays. He's a good actor. He goes to players, and he's diving. Took away our power play. Got to get focused. I know our players are frustrated right now. It's tough to play the game. But Osgood did the same thing against Dallas under Ribeiro."
I don't know if Therrien meant to say "under Ribeiro," but I really wouldn't be surprised at all to find Osgood under Ribeiro. Not that there's anything wrong with that.
"I think we just gotta keep moving our feet," said Crosby. "I thought we did a great job tonight of finishing our hits and putting a little more pressure on them. So I think both teams realize there's not going to be a ton of scoring chances. Unless both teams really open it up and go back and forth, it's not going to be that kind of game. It's going to be very few chances, and it's going to come down to who takes advantage of those chances."
Detroit did its job. It protected home ice. Now it's Pittsburgh's turn. The Penguins haven't lost at the Civic Arena since the Ford administration, and I see no reason why that will change in Game Three.
The Pens did a lot of good things in Game Two. They finally came to terms with having to dump and chase. They started to physically punish the Wings, battering Zetterberg, Datsyuk, and Franzen over the second half of the game. And they generated some quality scoring chances.
It's not like Osgood is stoning them. The Pens are butchering their best opportunities. They'll eventually go in. And once they get one, they're probably going to get a bunch.
Detroit has had a 2-0 lead in all four series this postseason. They've also lost two straight games in two of the previous three rounds. It can happen again. Nothing to it but to do it.