The Detroit Red Wings defeated the Pittsburgh Penguins 3-1 behind three goals from the most unlikely of scorers in the most unlikely of ways. Even through the NBC coverage was skewed in Crosby's favor, the Wings proved to be the better team.
The overkill about Sidney Crosby (or Cindy in Detroit) is bad in two ways. First, it is annoying for the Wings, who defeated his team last year even though the commercials post-Cup made it look like the Pens won. Second, the bias insults the nature of the game.
During the pregame show, one player from each team is asked a question by an NBC (Nothing But Crosby) personality.
Crosby was asked a question before he changed into his gear, and it gave the hockey world a close-up of his insult of a hockey beard. However, his question was not asked by his admirer Pierre McGuire.
McGuire got to ask Henrik Zetterberg his question, and of course it was about the Penguins captain. As if Crosby were the only newsworthy item in this year's Stanley Cup Final. It was easy to tell that the reigning Conn Smythe Trophy winner was put off by the question, but he still answered it as diplomatically as possible.
The Red Wings seemingly did not get enough time off from their thumping of the Chicago Blackhawks on Wednesday night. Nicklas Lidstrom, Pavel Datsyuk, Jonathan Ericsson, and Kris Draper did not play in the fifth and deciding game of that series.
Yet come Saturday, Lidstrom was back from his lower-body injury. Ericsson, being a real hockey player, played in Game One despite an appendectomy performed Wednesday.
Datsyuk and Draper were still out, and both will miss Game Two as well. Yet their absences didn't matter much in the first game of the Final.
The Red Wings are the deepest team in these playoffs: Every line and defensive pairing can hold their own with any matchup, and they can also score. However, the defense was boosted with the return of Lidstrom and Ericsson.
Plus having the scoring being done by Brad Stuart, Johan Franzen and Justin Abdelkader proved the Wings do not need to rely exclusively on their top-line scorers to win the game.
The first goal by Stuart with a little less than seven minutes to go in the first period took advantage of the Joe Louis Arena dasher. His slap-shot hit the dasher, bounced to the backside of Marc-Andre Fleury and into the net.
The Pens would somewhat quiet the crowd with a Ruslan Fedotenko goal off the rebound from an Evgeni Malkin shot with about two minutes to go in the first period.
The hitting in this first game was of the trying-out-the-angle variety. With the Niklas Kronwall hit on Martin Havlat being the gold standard for a playoff hit, everyone was looking for him to lay someone out.
He did take a run at Malkin in the third period, but Malkin moved just enough to avoid it; the shock wave off the boards still knocked him down.
Brooks Orpik did knock down the target for the Pens—Marian Hossa in the first period—but it was nothing compared to the style of hit that Kronwall or Brad Stuart will deliver.
Malkin tried a breakaway on Osgood in the second period after stealing the puck from Kronwall. However, Osgood deflected the weak shot by Malkin off to the side. Crosby also tried a breakaway in the second period, but Brian Rafalski's coverage and Osgood's reflexes prevented the goal.
The second period's only goal came from Johan Franzen. He has been one of the best playoff performers for the Wings for the past two playoffs. The heir apparent to Tomas Holmstrom has proven his worth in blocking the goalie's view as well as using a great deal of creativity to score playoff goals.
Darren Helm would also attempt a breakaway, albeit in the third period, but even though his speed separated him from Hal Gill, he couldn't fully control the puck, which Fleury easily defended.
The Abdelkader goal in the third period to finish the scoring was a thing of beauty in another quirky way. After he tried to shoot the puck on net, it hit the post and flew into the air. Jordan Staal, who was defending Abdelkader, lost sight of it. Before he realized what happened, Abdelkader caught the puck, put it on the ice and shot it past Fleury. This was the first ever playoff goal for the former MSU Spartan.
The Wings had a chance to add to the scoring with the Pens going open net. The Pens were able to keep the red light off to end the game, however.
The Wings won the first game behind a mature sense of play. The depth as well as the last change kept their players from being worn out.
The key for them is to balance the lines and keep going after Crosby and Malkin. This defensive strategy entails not just close coverage but also hitting them at every chance.
Think of it in football terms, where a defense makes it a point to hit the quarterback as much as possible to take him out of his comfort zone. Crosby and Malkin cannot be effective if they are getting beaten and bruised whenever they get on the ice.
It is in the Wings' favor to win this next game prior to Conan O'Brien's Tonight Show debut, which happens to be why Games One and Two are back-to-back.
They will have the Pens on the ropes just like last season, and it will be the perfect scenario for Datsyuk and Draper to make their debuts. But first, Game Two still has to be played.
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