|Abdelkader was the hero in the teams' October matchup (photo by Paul Sancya)|
With the ghosts of the 2008 and 2009 Stanley Cup Finals still echoing in each franchises' ears, the Pittsburgh Penguins and Detroit Red Wings met on Wednesday for NBCSports' "Rivalry Night."
Pittsburgh entered Wednesday's game coming off of a mixed-result Canadian trip that saw the Penguins shutout both the Edmonton Oilers and Calgary Flames, only to have Vancouver blank the Black & Vegas Gold 5-0 on Saturday.
The Penguins' record of 30-15-8 (68 points) had them in second place in the Metropolitan Division, 3 points behind the New York Islanders. Detroit owned a similar mark of 31-12-9 (71 points) and also occupied second place, albeit in the Atlantic Division.
Detroit won the previous meeting between the two teams 4-3, a game made memorable by the Red Wings scoring twice with the goalie pulled to force overtime before Justin Abdelkader netted the game winner with under a minute left in OT.
For Pittsburgh, Beau Bennett and Blake Comeau returned to the lineup. Bennett had missed several games in an attempt to work on his compete level, while Comeau had missed 20 games because of an injury.
First Period Action:
The Penguins opened with a flurry of strong possessions in the Detroit end, and following a Malkin scoring chance on a partial breakaway, Patric Hornqvist chipped a puck past Detroit netminder Petr Mrazek with a bad-angle shot from near the right post.
Hornqvist's goal came early, just 1:51 into the game, and the aforementioned Blake Comeau wasted no time in making his presence felt, recording an assist along with Kris Letang.
Detroit mustered a little pressure following the goal, but after a whistle negated another Penguins goal, officials awarded Pittsburgh a powerplay (Brendan Smith was sent off for holding).
The first power-play unit was content to pass the puck along the periphery and failed to generate much in the way of a scoring chance.
About a minute after teams returned to even strength, Blake Comeau showed some wheels in skating back to even-up a Red Wings odd-man break, which ended when Kris Letang leveled Tomas Tatar with a clean open ice hit.
Pittsburgh would generate a great scoring chance in the ensuing transition, but Sidney Crosby opted to pass instead of shoot, and the net was dislodged to save the Red Wings' proverbial bacon.
Blake Comeau would then notch his 12th goal of the season following a horrific Detroit turnover behind their own net. Hornqvist picked up the loose puck and found an unmarked Comeau alone in the slot. Mrazek had no chance in stopping Comeau's hard wrister, and Red Wing head coach Mike Babcock chose not to call a timeout to address his team's sloppy play.
Detroit would pick up the play, and nearly cut the Pens' lead in half, but Fleury's glove got a piece of Gustav Nyqvist's shot from the left circle.
Malkin almost made it 3-0 after replicating his whirling dervish backhand from the 2009 Stanley Cup run (a shot that victimized a helpless Cam Ward). Malkin's shot from tonight evaded Mrazek, but found the pipe and stayed out.
Detroit had a late faceoff in the Penguins end and managed to get Pittsburgh scrambling, but the period ended with the Pens up 2-0.
Second Period Action:
Detroit came out and controlled play in the second stanza, and seemed determined to cycle the puck below the goal line, thus keeping Fleury deep within his crease. The Pens managed to keep their sticks in centering lanes, and kept the visitors off of the scoreboard.
Despite the Red Wings' pressure, Maxim Lapierre was able to steal the puck from Brendan Smith behind Detroit's net, and Lapierre's stuff-in attempt carromed onto the blade of David Perron, who immediately redirected the rebound past Mrazek to make the score 3-0.
Two minutes later, Detroit's Darren Helm found himself alone in front of Fleury, but #29 managed to wait out Helm and made an athletic kick save along the ice to keep his shutout streak intact.
Sidney Crosby and his linemates then dominated play for nearly a minute in the Red Wings' end of the ice, but despite the tremendous pressure, failed to increase their lead.
Pittsburgh didn't stay silent for long though: after a successful dump and chase by Brandon Sutter, Nick Spaling redirected a Rob Scuderi wrister from the point past a clearly frustrated Petr Mrazek to elevate the game into "Barnburner" status.
Helm would get another excellent scoring chance a few minutes later, this time rifling a shot from the slot wide of Fleury and the net.
David Perron nearly had his second goal of the game following a nifty one handed pass through traffic by Sidney Crosby. Somehow, Mrazek was able to move right to left and shrug off Perron's shot.
With just under 7 minutes left in the second period, Steve Downie was penalized two minutes for hooking, putting Detroit's league-best power-play on the ice and putting Fleury's shutout streak in jeopardy.
Naturally, the Red Wings would convert almost immediately, with Weiss redirecting a pass in the slot off the post behind Fleury to make the game 4-1.
Weiss's marker seemed to energize Detroit, and they carried play for the next two shifts. Jonathan Ericsson would halt that momentum when he was sent off for hooking Nick Spaling, and Pittsburgh's beleaguered power-play went out for the second time to try and restore their early-season success.
The Red Wings shut down the Pens' first unit again, with Malkin's exploding stick providing the only real action during the two minutes of special teams play.
Third Period Action:
Mike Babcock sent Jimmy Howard out for the Red Wings to start the third period, meaning that Petr Mrazek would finish the night with a meager .765 save percentage (stopped 13 of 17 shots).
The Red Wings had a series of excellent individual plays, with Henrik Zetterberg being robbed from within 20 feet by Marc-Andre Fleury's glove.
Detroit would maintain their push, leaving Pittsburgh scrambling to keep the game a 3 goal contest. Whereas Detroit tried to generate offense from Gretzky's office in the first two periods, Detroit switched tactics in the third, and began trying to win individual battles and shoot from the point.
Riley Sheahan would add to Darren Helms's shooting woes when he wildly missed on two excellent scoring chances. Fleury also made a pair of tough saves, but gave up big rebounds that enabled Detroit to maintain possession.
Pittsburgh, struggling to clear their own end, eschewed using the boards in favor of Murphy Dumping the puck out to center and beyond.
Inexplicably, the Penguins' defensive shell allowed Detroit easy zone entries and routinely found themselves defending mild 3-on-2 scoring chances. Even with the extra scoring chances, Marc-Andre Fleury was solid in net, easily seeing the puck through screens and directing his rebounds harmlessly into the corners.
With the game clock passing 7 minutes left to play, Crosby would (finally) pull the trigger on a 2-1, but Jimmy Howard had excellent square positioning and turned aside Crosby's wrister from about 10 feet out.
Howard would also come up big on a Maxim Lapierre shot from in close to keep Detroit within striking distance.
Detroit struggled to generate much momentum the rest of the way, and the stands began to empty with about two minutes left in the game.
Blake Comeau was a force in the game, and was highly visible despite playing less than 13 minutes.
The Red Wings would outshoot the Penguins 24-21, but Pittsburgh would lead where it mattered- the scoreboard- and Pittsburgh climbed to within 1 point of the New York Islanders with their 4-1 win.