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Penguins need to circle the wagons, again

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Sunday, May 31, 2009

DETROIT — Face it, the Penguins need to win some faceoffs, or they'll face another deep hole in the Stanley Cup Final.

A sorry 16-of-55 performance in the faceoff circle Saturday — including just two wins in the third period — and some bad-luck goals doomed the Penguins in a 3-1 Game 1 loss to the Detroit Red Wings at Joe Louis Arena.

Like last season, they trail the best-of-seven Final, 1-0. However, as forward Max Talbot said last night, "the goal when you start on the road is to win one of two."

The Penguins have that opportunity tonight. Game 2 is at 8 p.m, and they're still the team with younger legs and fewer injuries.

They also have a defiant sense of confidence despite this loss.

"Definitely," center Sidney Crosby said of liking his club's chance to win the Cup more now than at this point last season.

The Penguins were blanked in Game 1 — and later Game 2 — to begin the 2008 Final in Detroit.

They carried the play to the Red Wings more last night than the combined six Final games last season.

The Penguins out-shot Detroit last night, 32-30, but their chances advantage appeared more significant. They also won the battle of blocked shots (14-11), giveaways (13-20) and essentially went hit-for-hit (39-43) with the Red Wings.

Penguins coach Dan Bylsma can draw a big circle around what his club did in the those big red circles on the ice.

"They're a puck-possession team, as are we," he said. "And starting with the puck is better than not.

"One of the things we've talked about is our wingers being aware and ready to jump in and help out. The (center) doesn't often win it clean back. A lot of those (Red Wings' faceoff wins) are puck battles off the draw. Being aware, being ready and winning those battles are the responsibility of the wingers and the (defensemen) in the defensive zone.

"So, that's an area we can do a better job of."

Some frightening faceoff statistics from last night: Crosby, 6 of 20; Evgeni Malkin, 4 of 9; Talbot, 0 of 4; and Jordan Staal, 6 of 19.

Red Wings coach Mike Babcock did not see those performances as the start of a series trend.

"Just a night," he said. "I think it goes that way. Some nights it goes your way, other nights it doesn't."

It went against Penguins goalie Marc-Andre Fleury last night.

Detroit went ahead, 1-0, at 13:38 of the first period on defenseman Brad Stuart's second playoff goal. His point-shot ricocheted off the backboards, slid toward Fleury, under his leg pads and over the goal line.

Malkin and winger Ruslan Fedotenko provided the Penguins with a counterpunch.

Malkin intercepted a clear-attempt by Stuart in the offensive zone and fired quickly on Red Wings goalie Chris Osgood. Fedotenko skated into the slot and stuffed a rebound into the net for his seventh playoff goal to tie the score, 1-1.

The Penguins owned the second period more than their 13-11 shots advantage suggested.

Osgood, though, showed the poise of a two-time Cup-winning starter. He denied Malkin on an early-period breakaway and later prevented Crosby from a highlight-reel finish to a spinning-backhand shot. Also, winger Miroslav Satan could not control a puck near the crease with much of the net open.

"We found a way to generate some good scoring opportunities," Crosby said. "Certainly if we would buried a couple there we would have put ourselves in a better position."

Detroit jumped ahead, 2-1, with 58 seconds left in the second on winger Johan Franzen's 11th playoff goal.

Out of a Penguins' timeout called by Bylsma to rest exhausted players following an icing of the puck, Crosby lost a faceoff to Henrik Zetterberg. A couple of weird bounces later — one, again, off the backboards — Franzen was credited for a goal off a shot that was really a behind-the-back pass toward the slot to winger Dan Cleary.

Winger Justin Abdelkader's first career playoff score at 2:46 of the third period was a more traditional fortunate bounce. He settled a rebound off his own shot and whipped a puck past Fleury to give the Red Wings a two-goal cushion.

"You just can't give them any freebies," Orpik said. "Any mistakes you make, they capitalize, and that's usually the difference in the game.

"But this feels a lot different than last year."

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