- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 2, 2009

DETROIT | A frustrated Sidney Crosby took a whack at Kirk Maltby’s skate as Game 1 ended, tired of what he called nonstop chirping by the Red Wings forward. So far, it might be Crosby’s best shot of the Stanley Cup Finals.

Blanketed by Henrik Zetterberg whenever he steps on the ice, Crosby has gone from being the best player in the playoffs to being a concern to the Pittsburgh Penguins because of his lack of offense.

He’s not playing badly, but he’s not playing like Sidney Crosby.

The Penguins’ 3-1 loss Sunday night put them down 2-0 to Detroit for the second successive year, and Crosby’s inability to continue his dominant play - 14 goals and 14 assists in 17 games in the first three rounds - is a reason why.

“There’s tons of explanations, but the fact is you get quick chances and either you put them in or you don’t - and that’s the difference,” Crosby said.

Crosby had no points in two frustrating nights against Detroit, though it’s hardly for a lack of effort. He nearly broke through in the opening 90 seconds of the third period Sunday when, with Pittsburgh within a goal of tying it, he rang a shot off the left post and nearly stuffed the rebound past Chris Osgood.

As Osgood tried to gather the puck, the Penguins felt Zetterberg illegally covered the puck with his hand, just as he did on a similar play in Game 1 when the puck was on Osgood’s back.

About a minute later, Justin Abdelkader - a rookie who had not scored an NHL goal before Saturday - scored for the second game in a row.

Who could have guessed Abdelkader would have two goals through two games and Crosby would have none? Until Abdelkader scored Saturday in Detroit’s 3-1 victory, no player had scored his first career goal in the Stanley Cup Finals since Pittsburgh’s Jim Paek in 1991.

It’s an all-too-familiar scenario for the Penguins, who never recovered from their 2-0 deficit last year and lost to Detroit in six games. Evgeni Malkin has a goal and an assist, but the Penguins - who scored 13 goals in their final two games of the Eastern Conference finals against Carolina - aren’t finding the open ice they previously did.

The left and right post, they’re hitting those with regularity.

“Instead of hitting the post, we have to hit the net,” defenseman Hal Gill said.

The Red Wings, as resilient and creative as ever, are getting contributions up and down their lineup as they try to win their fifth Stanley Cup since 1997 - despite being without injured star forward Pavel Datsyuk. So much for fatigue and the Penguins’ youth being a factor in Game 2.

The scoreboard to date: Red Wings 2, Penguins 0. Abdelkader 2, Crosby 0.

Still, the Penguins trailed Washington 2-0 in the Eastern Conference semifinals, won two at home and eventually won the series in seven.

“We were down 2-0 to Washington… and we found a way,” defenseman Sergei Gonchar said.

However, forward Bill Guerin cautioned, “We know we’re playing a better team.”

Zetterberg, one of the NHL’s best defensive forwards, was on the ice for part or all of Crosby’s 25 shifts in Game 1, when Crosby was limited to two shots. Zetterberg hopped over the boards again whenever Crosby even glanced at the ice Sunday, and while Crosby was far more visible in the Red Wings’ zone than he was in Game 1, he still couldn’t get the puck into the net despite putting five shots on Osgood.

“You see that happen so often when teams are that good and you get to this point,” Crosby said. “So we’ve just got to make sure that we stick to things and keep playing the way we are and bear down on our chances.”

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