- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 31, 2009

DETROIT | Chris Osgood has won the Stanley Cup three times, but he rarely is mentioned among the top goaltenders in the NHL.

He moved one step closer to hoisting the Cup a fourth time - and maybe that much closer to the respect he deserves. Osgood made 31 saves Saturday night, and the Detroit Red Wings began this championship rematch the same way they did last year - with an impressive victory against the visiting Pittsburgh Penguins.

The Penguins controlled the play for long stretches in the final 40 minutes, but a couple of fortuitous bounces and the strong play of Osgood led to a 3-1 victory at sold-out Joe Louis Arena.

“[Osgood] has really been playing well for us the whole playoffs,” Red Wings forward Henrik Zetterberg said. “He made some key saves when we needed him to. He just plays with so much calm and poise - it kind of spreads throughout our whole team.”

Johan Franzen gave the Red Wings the lead in the final minute of the second period. Franzen backhanded the puck toward the net from below the goal line, and it hit the leg of a prone Marc-Andre Fleury and went in.

It was Franzen’s 11th goal of the playoffs, which leads the Red Wings and is third in the league behind Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. Detroit dominated at the faceoff dots, possessing a 39-16 advantage in draws.

The goal came at the end of a long shift for the quintet of Penguins on the ice. There was an icing in the middle of the stretch and coach Dan Bylsma called a timeout to get his guys a brief respite, but Zetterberg beat Crosby on the faceoff, and the scramble in Pittsburgh’s end continued.

Osgood again proved he can be counted on to make the key stops when called upon. He turned aside a breakaway from Malkin early in the second period and later stopped Crosby on a fake slap shot and spin-o-rama.

The middle period belonged territorially to the Penguins, but Osgood kept Pittsburgh in check and allowed his team to forge another lead.

The Red Wings, who were missing league MVP finalist Pavel Datsyuk, got an insurance goal from his replacement, Justin Abdelkader, early in the third. He gloved his own rebound to the right of the net and chipped a shot into the top left corner while Penguins center Jordan Staal was spinning around in front of him, trying to locate the puck.

“It couldn’t get any better. It’s exciting to play for my hometown team first of all, and then to get this opportunity in the finals, it’s an unbelievable experience,” said Abdelkader, a Muskegon native.

Brad Stuart was credited with the first goal of the series after a misstep by Fleury. Stuart’s shot from the left point hit the end boards behind the goal and ricocheted toward the goalie. Fleury tried to sit on the puck in an awkward position, but instead he helped push it across the goal line at 12:33 of the opening period.

The goal was reminiscent of the winner Fleury gave up in the decisive Game 6 of last season’s Cup final. Fleury tried to lean back and smother the puck after a Zetterberg shot squeezed through him, but instead he knocked it into his goal.

Ruslan Fedotenko tied the score late in the opening period. Malkin intercepted a clearing pass from Stuart and put a slap shot on net. Osgood bobbled it, and Fedotenko was able to poke it away from him and into the net.

Fedotenko has seven goals this postseason, which ties him for third on the Penguins with Bill Guerin. He had 12 playoff goals for Tampa Bay when the Lightning captured the Cup in 2004.

The Penguins played considerably better than they did in the early part of the Cup Finals last season, when Osgood posted back-to-back shutouts here in the first two games, but it mattered little Saturday. This year they don’t have much time to think about falling behind: Game 2 is Sunday night.

“I think we got stronger or did a better job as the game went on,” Bylsma said. “But you’re playing a very good team, and you’re playing a team that can capitalize - and that’s what they did tonight.”

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