If the meeting between the teams Wednesday night was any indication, the Pittsburgh Penguins might want to start hoping the Detroit Red Wings aren’t the team that’s standing across from them when lineups are introduced for Game 1 of the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Detroit, which has been scrambling the last several weeks just to get into the playoffs, gave the high-powered Penguins everything they could handle Wednesday night before falling 4-3 in a shootout.
James Neal scored twice for the Penguins (51-24-5, 107 points), but it almost wasn’t enough thanks to game-tying goal by Detroit’s Riley Sheehan with just 75 seconds remaining in regulation. Neither team found the net during overtime before the Penguins prevailed in the shootout. But there is no shootout in the playoffs, of course, and in Detroit, the Penguins aren’t going to be facing the typical team that sneaks into one of the final playoff spots in the Eastern Conference.
Detroit’s guard of experienced players, like Daniel Alfredsson (though that experience was with Ottawa), Pavel Datsyuk and even players like Justin Abdelkader and Darren Helm, make the Red Wings anything but a first-round pushover.
Detroit dominated the shots on goal category Wednesday night to the tune of a 37-24 advantage in a game played at Pittsburgh. Playing without home-ice advantage (at least to start) is not likely to bother the Red Wings, especially given the tried and true leadership of long-time head coach Mike Babcock.
Yes, the Penguins were without the injured Evgeni Malkin on Wednesday, and from top to bottom, the Penguins might have the more talented roster, but the Red Wings will be no joke entering this playoff season.
Now in the Eastern Conference and away from old rivals like the Chicago Blackhawks and the Colorado Avalanche, Detroit has a whole new set of potential opponents upon whom it can turn the tables this spring.
Penguins fans looking for positives can point to the fact that their power play went 2-for-4 tonight (Detroit was 0-for-2) and Pittsburgh enjoyed a dominating 35-20 advantage at the face-off dot.
Wednesday’s game had many of the characteristics of what you will see in the playoffs, including just 12 total penalty minutes and 54 total hits. Through it all, the Red Wings ended up dead level with the Penguins after 65 minutes. Without 4-on-4 overtime and shootouts, the Penguins are going to have to go all out in the first round should Detroit be the opponent.
The teams are no strangers to playoff meetings, of course, having split back-to-back Stanley Cup Finals meetings in 2008 and 2009. Many who played a key role in those two series would square off again in the first round should the matchups dictate such a battle. If it happens, watch the Red Wings give the Penguins everything they care to deal with, and probably a little bit more.