How Can Pittsburgh Climb Out of Another 2-0 Hole?

Can it really be that only a couple of days ago that folks -- myself among them -- were talking about how the quick turnaround between the end of the third round of the NHL Playoffs and the start of the Stanley Cup Finals favored the Pittsburgh Penguins? ↵

↵Now, in a little less than 24 hours since the start of the series with the Detroit Red Wings, the Penguins find themselves in a 2-0 series hole and with plenty of questions to answer. Then again, it's the sort of situation the Penguins have faced before in this playoff year. Recall, it was a little less than a month ago that the Penguins dropped a pair of games to the Washington Capitals on enemy ice, yet they were able to turn that series around, eventually winning in seven games. ↵

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↵So what do the Penguins, who I picked to win this series in 7 games, need to do to stem the tide this time around? ↵

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↵Marc-Andre Fleury Needs to Play Better: Through two games it ought to be pretty clear that veteran goalie Chris Osgood has seriously outplayed his Pittsburgh counterpart. While Fleury is getting beaten by bad bounces and has turned Detroit 4th liner Justin Abdelkader into a 21st century version of John Druce, Osgood keeps coming up with big saves against the likes of Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby. Just good enough isn't going to cut it against Detroit, and this series will be very short unless Fleury gets his head back in the game. ↵

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↵Sidney Crosby Needs to Step Up: Even when the Penguins were down 2-0 to the Capitals in the second round, Sidney Crosby was still getting on the scoresheet. That's not been the case thus far (0 points and 7 shots), as the Red Wings have shut down the young superstar by using the last line change to match Crosby up against Henrik Zetterberg, and just as importantly, the defensive pairing of Nicklas Lidstrom and Brian Rafalski. Now that the series is shifting back to Pittsburgh for Games 3 and 4, that advantage goes back to the Penguins and rookie head coach Dan Bylsma, a man who thus far has been outcoached by Detroit's Mike Babcock. Curiously, Crosby only logged 19:36 in ice time in Game 2. ↵

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↵The Supporting Cast Needs to Show Up: Before the start of the series, I noted that Detroit had one of the deepest sets of forwards in the league, and over two games with superstar Pavel Datsyuk and grinder Kris Draper out of the lineup, players like Abdelkader, Darren Helm and Valtteri Filppula have all played starring roles in holding down the Penguins in the first two games of the series. Part of the reason is that Detroit has so much depth, even with Datsyuk and Draper out with injuries, that they can roll four lines all night long. ↵

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↵Meanwhile, on the other side of the ledger, the most significant part played by Pittsburgh's supporting cast came near the end of Game 2 when Maxime Talbot speared Detroit goalie Chris Osgood (he did his best Billy Smith imitation in response), setting off a melee that eventually resulted in Malkin receiving an instigator penalty -- something that could have led to him being suspended for Game 3. Meanwhile, the Pittsburgh forecheck, which was absolutely dominant in the second and third rounds against Washington and Carolina, hasn't been nearly as effective, as Detroit keeps finding a way to break out of the zone consistently. And when they haven't, Osgood has been there to make all the big saves. ↵

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↵While Pittsburgh is in a definite hole, this series is a lot closer than it might seem at first glance. Plenty of Penguins, Crosby included, have hit posts and crossbars. And I would be remiss if I didn't mention that in both Games 1 and 2, Zetterberg could very well have been whistled for covering the puck in the crease, a call that could have resulted in a penalty shot either time. In short, with a few more lucky bounces, we could be heading back to Pittsburgh with the series tied, 1-1. ↵

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This post originally appeared on the Sporting Blog. For more, see The Sporting Blog Archives.

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