- The Washington Times - Saturday, June 6, 2009

DETROIT | Call this the fickle finals.

Two games into the Stanley Cup Finals, all signs pointed to a Red Wings repeat. They may be older and more worn-down than the youthful and energized Pittsburgh Penguins, but experience, guile and winning history seemed more than enough to carry Detroit again.

That’s how it played out last year. The Red Wings won the first two games in Detroit, split the next two in Pittsburgh, then wrapped up their 11th championship in six games.

Why would this time be different?

A 5 1/2-minute stretch in the second period of Game 4 on Thursday helped turn around the series. Instead of carrying a 3-1 lead back to the Motor City, the defending champions are locked in a 2-2 fight.

Game 5 is Saturday night in Detroit, and a return to Pittsburgh for Game 6 is a sure thing.

“If you listen to what people on the outside say, Pittsburgh was done after two games. I don’t think anybody in our locker room thought that,” Red Wings coach Mike Babcock said Friday. “Now if you listen to what people on the outside say, the Red Wings are done after two games. I don’t think that’s what we think. What we think is that we’ve got a best of three - with two in our building - and we’re going to come here and play well.”

After the NHL crammed the first five games into an eight-day stretch, including back-to-back contests to start the series, there will be two days off before Games 6 and two more before 7 should it go the distance.

That could be what the Red Wings need to get their legs back. The return of leading scorer Pavel Datsyuk, who has missed seven games with a foot injury, would provide a major boost. Babcock said Datsyuk will play. The Russian forward nearly got back in the lineup Thursday; he skated in the pregame warmup but was ruled out.

While the Penguins felt better about the first two games than they did a year ago when they failed to score, much of the talk was about missed opportunities and bad breaks. The chances were there, but the goals weren’t as the Red Wings took a pair of 3-1 wins.

Now, after two 4-2 triumphs in front of a white-clad crowd yearning for Pittsburgh’s first hockey championship since 1992, the Penguins suddenly look like the favorites.

“As a team, we’re always focused on what we need to do,” coach Dan Bylsma said. “Hopefully we bring that levelheaded approach, whether it’s a loss or whether it’s a win. We’re no closer to the end than they are. We have two more wins to get, and we have a tall task going into a tough building against a very good team who is playing well.”

For the third time since 1978, the home team has won each of the first four games in the finals. Six years ago, the New Jersey Devils won the Cup by capturing all four victories at home. They lost all three games at Anaheim, which was coached by Babcock.

“We know we have to go in there and play a solid game,” Penguins captain Sidney Crosby said. “We want to come back here obviously up.”

So back it goes to Joe Louis Arena and its bouncy end boards. They were more friendly to the hometown Red Wings and goalie Chris Osgood than to Pittsburgh counterpart Marc-Andre Fleury in Games 1 and 2.

“I think we were tired after the last game,” Red Wings captain Nicklas Lidstrom said. “You should be tired after a hard game like that. But we’re feeling good today.”

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