Life isn't always fair in NHL playoff action - and for proof, consider how Saturday's opening game of the Stanley Cup final unfolded.
The Pittsburgh Penguins produced a far better effort overall than they did a year ago against the Detroit Red Wings - and in the second period, positively dominated the play, outplaying the home team by wide margins.
But with less than a minute to go in that period, the Red Wings' Johan Franzen scored the second of three odd-ball goals that Detroit put past the luckless Penguins' goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury, ultimately permitting them to escape with a 3-1 win in the first game of the best-of-seven series.
Game 2 goes tonight, the first time in half-a-century that the Stanley Cup final has seen games played on back-to-back nights.
The Penguins and Fleury in particular, will attempt to regroup in short order after a difficult and frustrating night.
None of the goals Fleury surrendered came on a clean shot. In the end, he was widely outplayed by his Red Wings' counterpart, Chris Osgood, who made three stellar saves in the first six minutes of the middle period - including a breakaway stop on Evgeni Malkin with the score tied 1-1 that could have turned the tide in Pittsburgh's favour.
Instead, Osgood's stops kept the Red Wings in the game, during a rare lapse in their composure, and they eventually capitalized on their scoring chances to pull away.
"The goalie's your most important player every night - it's the game of hockey," said Red Wings' coach Mike Babcock, when asked about Osgood's play during that critical second-period juncture. "I thought Ozzie did a good job, but I didn't think we were very good through the neutral zone. We gave away too many pucks. In the end, that catches up to you. He made some critical saves. I thought their goalie made some good saves as well.
"It wasn't as clean. There was not much space out there … and the ice isn't very good, so it leads to turnovers."
Brad Stuart, Franzen and Justin Abdelkader, with his first-ever playoff goal, scored for Detroit.
Ruslan Fedotenko replied for Pittsburgh.
Overall, it was a high-paced game and unexpectedly physical, considering the Penguins and Red Wings were the two least penalized in the playoffs thus far and arguably the two most skilled.
As advertised, Babcock matched Henrik Zetterberg, the reigning Conn Smythe trophy winner, up against Sidney Crosby in most even-strength situations - and the two put on an epic battle, putting the body on each other at every turn, battling hard for every inch of ice. The two essentially negated each other's presence. Zetterberg had one shot rattle off the post in the opening period; he also earned the second assist on Franzen's game winner.
Crosby and his line-mates Bill Guerin and Chris Kunitz produced 11 of the 32 Penguins' shots, but couldn't get anything past Osgood.
The Red Wings took full advantage of home ice, scoring twice with pucks that caromed weirdly off the lively Joe Louis Arena boards.
"It's like every building you go to," said Babcock, "there are little nuances. You try to take advantage of them the best you possibly can. Tonight, we got some breaks, but I always think, if you're around the net, you get a chance to get some breaks."
The first of those aforementioned came on Stuart's second playoff goal, which gave the Red Wings a 1-0 first-period lead. Stuart deftly kept an errant clearing pass in the zone at the left point and directing the puck back into the zone. In the end, it caromed off the live boards behind the goal, came in front, hit Fleury on the pad and deflected in, with Marian Hossa standing there to celebrate the goal.
Unhappily for Stuart, his giveaway to Malkin gave the goal back to the Penguins before the period ended. On the play, Malkin intercepted Stuart's errant clearing attempt and blasted a shot that Osgood stopped, but couldn't control.
Fedotenko scooped up the rebound and scored to tie it 1-1 with 83 seconds to go in the period.
Pittsburgh started well in the second period and had three Grade-A scoring chances in the first six minutes, only to be denied by Osgood.
Later in the period, after the Red Wings botched a line change, Malkin sent Miro Satan in on Osgood, but Satan lost the puck off his stick on the deke and it skittered past the post, harmlessly wide.
Not only did Detroit survive the Penguins' onslaught, they unexpectedly took the lead with 57 seconds to go in the second. Franzen tried to centre the puck to Dan Cleary at the top of the crease and watched in delight as it deflected in off Fleury's pad.
Franzen described the game-winning goal this way: "Raffy (Brian Rafalski) took the shot and it hit the back boards. I tried to get it in the crease for Cleary, who was standing there. Fleury kicked it in somehow. It was a lucky goal, but if it hadn't happened like that, Cleary would have put it in."
In the third period, Abdelkader extended the Red Wings' lead with yet another odd-looking goal. This time, fellow rookie Ville Leino controlled the puck behind the Penguins goal and centred the puck to Abdelkader. The rebound of his original shot bounded wildly up in the air, where Penguins' centre Jordan Staal couldn't see it, leaving Abdelkader to golf it out of mid-air, into the top corner of the net.
Fleury called the goals that eluded him "frustrating" but thought the Penguins overall played a good game and gave the Red Wings all they could handle.
"We know we can win, and we showed tonight that we're right there," said Fleury. "We're confident."
Fleury said he planned to review videotape of the game, in the hopes that he can better handle the lively boards.
For his part, Zetterberg didn't think the Red Wings played all that well.
"As soon as one team made a mistake, the other team took advantage," said Zetterberg. "There was a little while in the second period, when both teams lost a lot of pucks in the neutral zone - and you can't really do that against a good team like this."
With the Penguins pushing to get closer, Zetterberg appeared to close his hand on the puck in a goal-mouth scramble, after Crosby almost scored. There was no penalty shot called on the play.
Abdelkader and Leino likely would not have been in the Red Wings' line-up, had they not lost a trio of forwards - Pavel Datsyuk, Kris Draper and Tomas Kopecky - to injury.Report Typo/Error