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Saturday, May 30, 2009
Updated: May 31, 1:32 PM ET
Hockey gods, save us in Game 2

By Pierre LeBrun
ESPN.com

DETROIT -- OK, so maybe we're getting a little greedy.

The 2009 NHL playoffs have provided some of the best hockey in years. So yes, guilty as charged for wanting the party to continue in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup finals.

Maybe it'll just be a one-off, but for a pair of teams that has enough combined talent to host an All-Star Game, Saturday night's 3-1 win from the Detroit Red Wings over the Pittsburgh Penguins left you a little wanting.

Sure, the physical play in the first period was tremendous; Brooks Orpik leveled Marian Hossa, Sidney Crosby hammered Henrik Zetterberg and Brad Stuart put Kris Letang on his behind. But, quite frankly, the affair petered out after that.

The Wings got a pair of goals that bounced off the back boards. The Penguins scored on a lucky rebound. Then you had a lot of star players just trying not to make mistakes.

"I think we have to play like that," said Red Wings coach Mike Babcock. "The way they're playing, they're reloading fast, they're tracking back hard. Their D are trying to box out. We're going to have to get goals like that. I don't think there's going to be a lot of skill plays.

"Even tonight, their main opportunities were when we turned it over. [Evgeni] Malkin stole one off Stuart, stuff like that in the neutral zone. If you don't count it on turnovers and they're not giving you any, you're going to have to work hard for your goals and you need a good net presence. I think we've got guys that do that."

We're not going to get a lot of skill plays in this series? Mike, please tell us it ain't so. We came to the Cup finals to see a tic-tac-toe from Sergei Gonchar to Malkin to Crosby or from Nicklas Lidstrom to Zetterberg to Johan Franzen. Not a pair of goals off Marc-Andre Fleury's butt.

"I think this time of year there's not going to be a ton of great goals scored. Everybody's really concentrating on defense," Penguins blueliner Orpik said.

OK, we accept, to use Babcock's 2003 trademark saying, that you need some "greasy goals" to win big playoff games. But come on, you've got more individual NHL hardware on that ice than what will be in display in Las Vegas on June 18.

"But you have so many skilled players on both sides of the ice, so sometimes you kind of take each other out," reasoned Lidstrom, a six-time Norris Trophy winner. "You have to get those kind of playoff goals where you're banking it off the net or throwing it at the net to make a play.

"But when you're playing against a really talented team, you have to take away the turnovers. They're a real quick transition team, going from defense to offense. That's one of the things we've talked about. You can't give them the chance coming through the neutral zone with speed. We're the same kind of team. We like to have quick turnarounds go the other way, as well. So I think you see a lot of similarities with the two teams."

The two opening goals which bounced off the end boards and banked off Fleury were not fluky, however. The Wings use their lively boards to their advantage.

"When you can't find a lane, you don't want to hit shin pads on the forwards, so they get a turnover," Franzen said. "So if you don't have a lane, you try to put it behind and hope for a good bounce."

Added Zetterberg: "I think the D clogs up the middle a lot, so if you don't have a clear shot to put it on net, you can put it on the boards and try to get there that way."

Franzen let it slip that his own goalie hates those lively end boards. Yep, he's right.

"It's tough for goalies," said Chris Osgood, who was excellent again Saturday night. "They're scoring lots in the regular season on them. Especially if it comes off one side and out the other, you're pretty much left defenseless. It can be frustrating, but you've got to work them the best you can.

"They definitely are dangerous, and tonight they bounced our way."

Osgood hates those lively boards so much, he's been known to let one of hockey's famous arena managers, Al Sobotka (the octopus guy), know about it.

"I've sworn at Al quite a few times behind the glass," Osgood said. "He stands behind the net where Fleury stands, and I've been fuming a few nights. I know how it feels, it's frustrating sometimes."

That was funny and entertaining from Osgood. But please, oh please, hockey gods, let's not focus on the lively boards in Game 2. Let's see this amazing collection of skill rise to the surface.

Pierre LeBrun covers the NHL for ESPN.com.