The Pittsburgh Penguins held a board meeting Saturday morning, but it didn’t appear to help.
The Penguins worked during the game-day skate prior to Game 1 of the Stanley Cup final on the nuances of the lively back boards at Detroit’s Joe Louis Arena, but when the game started, the Wings worked those same boards for the decisive goals in a 3-1 victory.
Detroit’s opening goal came when defenceman Brad Stuart’s point shot deflected off the boards, hit Penguins goalie Marc-Andre Fleury from behind and found a way into the net.
“I think he sat on it and pushed it in the net,” Stuart said.
With the game tied 1-1 late in the second period, Johan Franzen corralled the rebound from a Brian Rafalski shot off the back boards and threw it in front, where it bounced off Fleury’s leg and in for the eventual game winner.
“Fleury kicked it in somehow,” Franzen said.
Detroit’s third goal was tallied by rookie centre Justin Abdelkader, playing in his first Stanley Cup final game due to the absence of Pavel Datsyuk, who was out with a foot injury. Abdelkader, who scored the winning goal for Michigan State in the 2007 NCAA final, found his own rebound and zipped a shot high into the net behind Fleury.
“I think this is right up there with the Michigan State goal,” Abdelkader said. “That was kind of like a Game 7 situation, because it’s a one-game elimination with 18.9 seconds left to play, so that one would be tough to beat.”
Abdelkader played just 5:10 on the night, as Wings coach Mike Babcock sat him and double-shifted Henrik Zetterberg with Detroit fourth-line wingers Kirk Maltby and Ville Leino whenever the Penguins sent out either Evgeni Malkin or Sidney Crosby with their fourth unit.
“I haven’t been in that situation really in my whole career,” Abdelkader said. “It’s a little adjustment and it can be tough. Between whistles, I’d try to get on the ice and keep my legs underneath me.”
After a two-game absence due to a lower-body injury, Detroit captain Nicklas Lidstrom returned to the Red Wings defence and was plus-1, playing a solid 24:07.
“I think getting a few days off helped me,” Lidstrom said. “I did feel a little rusty early in the game before I got my legs under me.
“After a few shifts, I started feeling more comfortable and felt better, too.”
Jonathan Ericsson was the other Wings defender who returned to the lineup, just four days after undergoing an emergency appendectomy, and admitted he required shots to numb the pain.
“In the warm-ups I didn't feel that great, so I took some local shots at my big incisions,” Ericsson said. “As the game went on, it felt better and better. No problems.”
Ericsson felt certain he’d be ready to answer the bell again for Game 2 on Sunday night.
“Not at all (worried about it),” he said. “Now I know what I need to do to kind of numb it down and where the doctor needs to put the shots. It felt good, and it didn't bother me."
The Wings got another strong performance from netminder Chris Osgood, who was named the game’s first star after making 31 saves, none bigger than a second-period glove-hand stop of an Evgeni Malkin breakaway.
“I just wanted to stay up and be as big as I could,” Osgood said. “He’s got a great shot and can make some great moves. I was fortunate to get my hand on it."
A key moment came in the third period when Crosby’s close-in shot deflected off Osgood’s arm, hit the post, then landed squarely on Osgood’s back.
“I knew it was there, but I’m not that flexible,” Osgood said.
Henrik Zetterberg jumped in quickly to cover the puck and the Penguins were claiming he closed his hand on the puck and it should have been a penalty shot.
“I was telling him to glove it off my back,” Osgood said. “I was hoping he wasn’t going to get a penalty for it.”
No foul was called on the play.
At the Helm
Detroit centre Darren Helm was an ongoing concern for the Penguins, utilizing his blazing speed to get in on the forecheck, where he delivered a game-high eight hits.
“I was just playing hard,” said Helm, who spent much of his night battling with Pittsburgh centre Jordan Staal.
“He’s a faster skater than he looks,” Helm said. “I wanted to make sure I was above him. He’s a good player when he gets the puck in the middle.”
Helm won 11 of 15 faceoffs, helping Detroit to a 39-16 advantage at the dot.
“I wanted to focus on the faceoff circle,” Helm said. “In the last series, (Chicago’s Jonathan) Toews really took it to me.”
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