DETROIT – The Red Wings found a perfect way to move halfway to a repeat – beat the Pittsburgh Penguins back-to-back.
So much for Detroit being old, beaten down and needing a break. The Red Wings topped the Penguins 3-1 in Game 2 of the finals Sunday night and are two wins from holding onto the Stanley Cup.
Just as they did last year in winning the title for the 11th time and fourth in 11 seasons, the Red Wings took the first two games from the Penguins at home. This year posed a new challenge, sweeping a pair on consecutive nights three days after finishing the Western Conference finals.
“It’s hurt us. Don’t kid yourself,” Detroit coach Mike Babcock said. “I thought we were exhausted out there. It’s amazing what will does for you.
“We found a way to win two games, but we haven’t been as good as we’re capable of being.”
Rookie defenseman Jonathan Ericsson, who watched the Western Conference finale Wednesday night in the dressing room hours after having his appendix removed, scored the tying goal for Detroit in the second period. He missed one game and returned to the lineup Saturday.
“Just a couple years ago, it took people a month to recover,” the 25-year-old Ericsson said. “It took me three days.”
Valtteri Filppula added the go-ahead tally 6:08 later, and Justin Abdelkader scored his second of the series in the third. The Red Wings left the ice in front of their cheering, towel-waving fans and headed for Pittsburgh with another commanding lead.
Game 3 is Tuesday night, and the odds favor the Red Wings’ quest to become the NHL’s first repeat champion since they did it in 1997 and ’98. Teams that win Games 1 and 2 at home have captured the Cup 31 of 32 times.
Frustration boiled over for Pittsburgh with 18.2 seconds left, when Max Talbot stuck his stick in goalie Chris Osgood’s midsection after he made his 31st save. That led to a fight between Evgeni Malkin and Red Wings forward Henrik Zetterberg that left both players’ jerseys on the ice.
Malkin was subject to a one-game suspension for being assessed in the final 5 minutes, but that punishment was quickly rescinded by league disciplinarian Colin Campbell.
“None of the criteria in this rule applied,” Campbell said in a statement. “Suspensions are applied under this rule when a team attempts to send a message in the last five minutes by having a player instigate a fight. A suspension could also be applied when a player seeks retribution for a prior incident. Neither was the case here.”
The Penguins, who dropped the opener 3-1 on Saturday night, played better in this two-game set compared to a year ago when the finals were new to them.
Malkin had a strong first period and staked Pittsburgh to an early 1-0 lead. It just wasn’t enough as Detroit – especially Zetterberg – bottled up captain Sidney Crosby and kept him pointless for the second straight night.
“In each of the first two games we have been able to play in the offensive zone for periods of time,” Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said. “We’ve been able to get shots, been able to outshoot a good Detroit team, but they’ve been able to get the timely goals.
“As a result they’ve got two wins.”
Crosby sent a perfect feed from behind the net to Bill Guerin, whose bid to tie it in the second was foiled when the puck struck the inside of the left post. Crosby was denied by the left post at the other end, a no-goal confirmed by video replay. Crosby let out a disgusted spit from the bench as the announcement was made.
Just over a minute later, Abdelkader sealed the win with his second NHL goal and second in two nights.
Osgood outplayed Marc-Andre Fleury again in earning his 73rd NHL playoff victory, eighth on the career list.
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