Wings make lackluster Pens look silly

Ross McKeon
Yahoo! Sports

The first 20 minutes of Saturday night's opening game of the Stanley Cup finals were reserved for getting rid of the heebie-jeebies. The final 40 minutes was all men against boys.

Welcome, Pittsburgh Penguins, to your next two weeks, or less.

Did Game 1 really look any different than the Detroit Red Wings' previous 12 wins this postseason? The Wings dominated faceoffs, were outstanding on special teams, got efficient goaltending and scored timely goals. It's not this easy, but Detroit makes it look this way.

It's too early to assume the final score of Game 1 – 4-0, Red Wings – is a portent of what the final series' result will be, but it does cross one's mind. The Penguins must raise their level of play several notches or this will be a shorter series than the five games predicted.

This could easily have been 6-0, too, considering a Nicklas Lidstrom goal in the first period was waved off thanks to a cheesy goaltender interference call against Tomas Holmstrom.

And Kris Draper saw a second-period attempt dance across the entire span of the crossbar before caroming harmlessly away.

Look at the numbers from Game 1. Detroit outshot Pittsburgh, 36-19. Throw out the Pens' 12-11 advantage during a power-play filled opening period, and they got outshot 25-7 over the final two periods.

At one point Detroit led in faceoff wins 24-10, and ended up with a 35-31 edge on draws. Valtteri Filppula, a 24-year-old Finn who is quietly being asked to help neutralize the Evgeni Malkin line, was 6-2 on draws Saturday. Draper, the smart veteran and typical underrated depth player who separates Detroit from others, was 13-6. Henrik Zetterberg won 10 draws. He's checking the Sidney Crosby line.

This is a troubling start for Pittsburgh, which struggled in the faceoff circle during the regular season. It's particularly costly against the Red Wings because Detroit possesses the puck more than anybody, and if Detroit dominates in faceoffs it plays more into Pittsburgh having to chase and chase and chase to try and get it back.

Pittsburgh was 0-for-5 in the power play, four of which came in the opening 16 minutes. There was a 40-minute gap between the fourth Penguins' power play to their fifth. Why? Pittsburgh stopped competing.

We're not sure they even deserved the last one. It was an interference call on Lidstrom, who held up Jarkko Ruutu from chasing down a late-game dump-in.

You see this defensive tactic countless number of times, and while it is definitely a penalty, referees stopped calling it in November. The score was 2-0 Detroit at the time. Whether right or wrong, how many times during this postseason have you seen the losing team get a power play in this situation? It makes you wonder.

It only went from bad to worse when the Red Wings scored shorthanded. This is going to be another problem for Pittsburgh. Detroit is unafraid to try to score when down a man. The Wings can be aggressive because they have speed and skill throughout their lineup. They also have a coach who isn't afraid to put pressure on a power play all over the ice, not just in the traditional box around their own net.

Pittsburgh coach Michel Therrien admitted his team did not compete Saturday night. He said the Penguins would have to play much better. He said Detroit is the best team they've seen thus far. He said his team played its worst game of the postseason.

He didn't sugarcoat anything.

The Red Wings showed experience and maturity in the way they brushed off the Holmstrom call. First goals in playoff games are huge, and Detroit looked like it had it at 15:20 – Lidstrom pinching from the left point to beat Marc-Andre Fleury with a wrist shot into the top far corner of the net.

The goal was immediately waved off because referee Dan O'Halloran didn't like what Holmstrom did with his stick. The veteran winger, after skating across the edge of the crease in an attempt to screen Fleury, slid his stick between the goalie's legs where it came to rest against his right pad. Fleury was either trying to get a better angle to cut down Lidstrom's shot or he was coming to the edge of his crease to deny Holmstrom room in front (and encourage a penalty).

When you see a call like this you realize that Holmstrom has not only gotten into the heads of goalies and opponents, but referees, too. All that moaning and groaning to the series supervisor is paying off. Holmstrom went off the ice but Detroit killed a fourth straight shorthanded situation in the span of 11:20.

The Red Wings just stepped on the pedal harder, drawing the Penguins into four straight penalties. Pittsburgh struggled to keep up, and it cost it on the first goal. Ruutu made a poor decision with the puck from his zone, banking an outlet off the sideboards while his teammates were dying for a line change. Even though Mikael Samuelsson picked off the puck at center, Pittsburgh forwards Tyler Kennedy and Jordan Staal went ahead and changed against their better judgment. The three who were left to defend were dog-tired, too.

Samuelsson drove into the left circle, and Pittsburgh defenseman Rob Scuderi didn't do enough to force him wide. Instead, Samuelsson skated around the defenseman, behind the net, and tucked a wraparound off Fleury's left skate. The goalie tried to poke check Samuelsson on the opposite side, but that move delayed his chance to move laterally for the wraparound.

The game was over right there. A Fleury giveaway two minutes into the third period gift-wrapped Samuelsson's second goal. Daniel Cleary scored on a backhander to cap a shorthanded effort and Zetterberg bagged an otherwise meaningless power-play goal for icing on the cake.

The good news for Pittsburgh is it gets another chance Monday in Game 2. Detroit, of course, is hoping to make that nothing but bad news.

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