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Detroit Red Wings forward Justin Abdelkader celebrates his goal with teammate Nicklas Lidstrom during the third period in Game 2 of the Stanley Cup final against the Pittsburgh Penguins in Detroit on Sunday. (REBECCA COOK)
Detroit Red Wings forward Justin Abdelkader celebrates his goal with teammate Nicklas Lidstrom during the third period in Game 2 of the Stanley Cup final against the Pittsburgh Penguins in Detroit on Sunday. (REBECCA COOK)

Red Wings win test of wills Add to ...

With the talent at their disposal, there may eventually be a slew of highlight-reel goals scored in this Stanley Cup final, a batch of brilliant individual efforts to showcase the talents of Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Henrik Zetterberg and the rest.

But for now, two games into the series, this much anticipated match-up between the Pittsburgh Penguins and the Detroit Red Wings has turned into a test of wills.

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Playing for the second time in two nights, on a warm day, in a humid building on what coach Mike Babcock matter-of-factly described as poor ice, the two sides battled and scraped and fought hard and didn't give an inch.

Anyone who believes talent and grit cannot be present in the same player wasn't paying close attention as a frustrated Malkin dropped the gloves with Zetterberg in the dying seconds of a 3-1 Pittsburgh loss, presumably earning the first instigating minor, major and game misconduct of his career.

Malkin faced an automatic one-game suspension for receiving his instigator penalty in the final five minutes of play, but the league's hockey-operations department huddled long after the game was over and rescinded the penalty, on the grounds that he wasn't trying to send a message for the next game. Babcock was okay with that too - he predicted nothing would come of it half an hour earlier.

"I think they're competing hard and they're frustrated," said Babcock, of the Penguins. "I've been impressed with how hard they've played. Tonight, they hit two posts … and that's the way hockey is. You've got to keep working hard.

"Every inch of ice is a battle out there."

Zetterberg acknowledged that it was the first fight of his career and said it started after the Penguins' Max Talbot slashed goaltender Chris Osgood in the dying seconds of play.

"In the playoffs and the finals like this, there is a lot of emotion, a lot of feelings," Zetterberg said. "When you get scrums, that's the way it is. It should be a lot of feelings - and nothing more than that.

Pittsburgh took an early lead in the game, but Detroit responded with a pair of second-period goals to move ahead 2-1.

In the end, it was rookie Justin Abdelkader's third-period insurance goal - his second of the series - that salted away the victory for the Red Wings and gave them a 2-0 lead in the best-of-seven series, which switches to Pittsburgh for the third game tomorrow night.

Detroit held a similar two-game lead last year, but the difference - in terms of the play, if not the result - is night and day. On the play, there hasn't been much to choose from between the teams.

Ultimately, the determining factor was a series of goals straight from the Lemony Snicket series - a Series of Unfortunate Events, one after the other, if you're watching from a Pittsburgh perspective.

Take Valtteri Filppula's second-period go-ahead goal, which gave Detroit its first lead of the night and stood up as the game winner.

It began when Marian Hossa hooked and then slashed the stick out of Pascal Dupuis's hands, snapping it like a twig. Dupuis, playing for the first time in the series, turned to the referees, appealing for a penalty that didn't come.

Meantime, the Red Wings kept going. Tomas Holmstrom kept the puck alive in the goal crease, before Filppula scooped it up and scored on a backhand from a near-impossible angle, almost even with the goal line.

In the third, Abdelkader - playing only because of injuries to Pavel Datsyuk, Kris Draper and Tomas Kopecky - chopped a bouncing puck from 30 feet out, knuckling it toward the net with enough action to fool goaltender Marc-André Fleury. Abdelkader scored his first playoff goal only 24 hours earlier and it had the same net effect - to give the Red Wings breathing room and a two-goal cushion. Detroit is 11-0 in these playoffs when it carries a lead into the third period.

The similarities to Saturday's opener weren't just limited to Abdelkader's unexpected offence either. Early in the second period, a reflex glove save on Malkin by Red Wings' goaltender Chris Osgood shifted the momentum in Detroit's favour.

Soon afterward, the Red Wings rebounded with a strong shift, Filppula's line hemming the Penguins in for a minute or so with a good cycle and eventually forcing them to ice the puck. Under similar circumstances the night before, coach Dan Bylsma called a timeout to rest his weary skaters, but it did no good. Detroit scored anyway.

Presumably, Bylsma had that in mind when he didn't call a timeout - and that strategy backfired as well. Darren Helm won the ensuing faceoff cleanly; Jiri Hudler worked it back to the point; and Jonathan Ericsson's long shot found its way through traffic, past a screened Fleury, to tie the game.

Abdelkader and Ericsson, part of the Red Wings' kiddie corps, both spent the majority of the year playing for Detroit's AHL affiliate in Grand Rapids. Ericsson came up soon after an injury sidelined Andres Lilja. Abdelkader, according to Babcock, "would have probably played a more important role on our team if we weren't up against the cap so much during the year.

"The biggest thing with coaches is trust. It's hard to be a good player if a coach doesn't trust you."

The fact that Draper could have probably played last night and didn't is the surest sign that Abdelkader is quickly earning Babcock's trust.

Last night, that trust was repaid in full.

Follow on Twitter: @eduhatschek

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