Big victory beyond Penguins' reach

| Monday, Feb. 9, 2009

A win Sunday would not have altered their past, but it could have shaped the Penguins' future.

For that reason, a 3-0 loss yesterday to the Detroit Red Wings at Mellon Arena might sting this June only a bit less than their defeat in the 2008 Stanley Cup final did last June.

The Red Wings, who won the Cup at Mellon Arena last season, were ripe for the picking yesterday — and the Penguins' failure to secure two points could prove costly in their playoff pursuit.

"There's not much positive about losing," captain Sidney Crosby said after he was limited to just one shot. "Our intent was there. Our effort was there. We have to expect that from this point.

"There's no question we've got to find ways to win."

They couldn't, despite facing a Red Wings squad that played its second game in less than 24 hours and was without bustling power forwards Tomas Holmstrom and Johan Franzen.

They couldn't, despite the built-in motivation of facing an opponent that cost them the Cup last season and added disappointment to dejection by signing their prized free agent, right wing Marian Hossa, in July.

They couldn't, despite three opening-period power-play chances — a goal on any of which would have given them a 1-0 lead.

The Penguins failed to score on those power plays, registering only four shots over six minutes of advantage time. As would prove the case all game, they could not convert scoring chances into quality shots.

That was the case with NHL scoring leader Evgeni Malkin on the second power play. Positioned to the side of the cage, Malkin could not bury a loose puck behind Detroit goalie Ty Conklin, who was in no position to make a save.

"If you score the first goal, it's a different game," coach Michel Therrien said. "The first goal was going to give momentum to one team."

The Red Wings (35-11-7, 77 points) gained that momentum on the first of two goals from center Pavel Datsyuk at 10:08 of the second period.

Datsyuk's 21st goal was one Penguins goalie Marc-Andre Fleury said he would "like to have back."

Brilliant much of the past month with a 6-3-1 record and a .928 save percentage, Fleury failed to control a rebound and kicked the puck with his left leg pad into prime scoring real estate, where Datsyuk waited to pounce.

He did to put the Red Wings ahead, 1-0.

That score held until 11:09 of the third period, when an oft-jeered Hossa circled around Penguins center Jordan Staal, skated into the slot and whipped a backhand through traffic and past Fleury.

Red Wings 2, Penguins 0 — hockey match.

Datsyuk added his 22nd goal at 17:48 to cap Detroit's scoring.

"It feels like we deserved a better fate," Penguins left wing Matt Cooke said.

The Penguins' power play has fatefully failed them all season. It finished 0-for-5 yesterday and is now at 16.4 percent on the season - a bottom third rating that may keep the defending Eastern Conference champions from the playoffs.

The Penguins (26-24-5, 57 points) are 10th in the East, two points behind eighth-place Carolina, which owns a game in-hand.

That eighth and final slot might prove the Penguins' only way into the playoffs. Buffalo is seventh in the East with 62 points, and it also holds a game in-hand.

Plus, the Penguins haven't won three consecutive games since a six-game victory streak to open November. They had won two in a row before losing to Detroit.

"This is a hockey game we had to win," left wing Pascal Dupuis said, "and we didn't."

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