- The Washington Times - Monday, June 1, 2009

DETROIT | Playing so soon after the end of the conference finals was supposed to favor the Pittsburgh Penguins because of their youth, an extra day of rest and a superior health situation. Games on back-to-back nights to open the Stanley Cup Finals were supposed to be an advantage for the same reasons.

Turns out none of that mattered, and the Detroit Red Wings are halfway to winning the Stanley Cup for the fifth time in 12 seasons. Great depth has negated injury problems, and goaltender Chris Osgood has outperformed the guy at the other end of the ice.

Osgood made 31 saves, and the veteran-laden Red Wings received three goals from players 25 years old or younger in a 3-1 victory Sunday night at sold-out Joe Louis Arena to take a 2-0 series lead. Teams that have won the first two games of the finals at home have captured the Cup 31 of 32 times.

“I think [the back-to-back games] has hurt us - we looked exhausted out there,” Detroit coach Mike Babcock said. “To me that is what will can do for you. We talked about it before the game that you just have to will yourself to do it.”

Last season, Detroit swept the first two games from Pittsburgh in this barn as Osgood posted back-to-back shutouts. This season, he yielded only two goals in the first two contests and both nights made spectacular saves, particularly on Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin.

The Red Wings took control Sunday with a pair of goals in the second period. After a long stretch without any sustained pressure, Detroit finally kept the puck in Pittsburgh’s zone for a long shift and forced an icing call.

With the Penguins unable to swap out their tired players, Detroit’s Darren Helm won the faceoff to Jiri Hudler. Jonathan Ericsson took a pass and put a shot past Pittsburgh goalie Marc-Andre Fleury at 4:21. Ericsson missed the final game of the Western Conference finals because of an emergency appendectomy, but he was back in the lineup for Game 1 just three days later.

Pittsburgh coach Dan Bylsma used his timeout in the same situation in Game 1, but the Red Wings still scored off the ensuing faceoff. He chose not to call a timeout Sunday but ended up with the same result.

Seconds after Malkin came out of the penalty box, Detroit secured the lead. There was activity in front of the net, and Malkin skated in and knocked Tomas Holmstrom into his goaltender. With Fleury on the ice, Valtteri Filppula backhanded a shot from along the goal line into the net at 10:29. Fleury finished with 23 saves on 26 shots.

Justin Abdelkader, only in the lineup because of injuries at forward, scored for the second time in as many nights early in the third period. He went one-on-two against the Pittsburgh defense and flipped the puck to himself before beating Fleury with a long shot of a bouncing puck.

“I think the coaches trust me now, especially in the [defensive] zone,” Abdelkader said. “It is huge - that third goal is always big.”

Malkin was credited with the lone goal of the opening period after a wild scrum near the net with the Penguins on the power play. Malkin took the original shot - a slap shot from the right point - and Crosby, Bill Guerin and Kris Letang all took whacks at the puck near the crease before it popped back to Malkin. Detroit defenseman Brad Stuart knocked the rebound of Malkin’s second attempt out of the air, but it deflected off Osgood and into the net at 16:50.

The Red Wings controlled play in the early portion of the first period and had the game’s first six shots. But Pittsburgh had 11 of the final 12 in the period and continued to apply pressure in the final minutes after Malkin’s goal.

“We found a way to win two games, but we haven’t played the way we are capable of,” Babcock said.

Notes - Malkin was assessed 17 minutes in penalties, including an instigator, fighting major and 10-minute misconduct for starting a fight with Henrik Zetterberg in the game’s final minute. The NHL rescinded the one-game suspension that would have been called for since the fight was in the final five minutes. NHL executive vice president Colin Campbell said in a statement that Malkin will not be suspended. …

MVP finalist Pavel Datsyuk did not play for the fourth straight game for the Red Wings. Forward Kris Draper also remained out.

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