Could it be any worse right now for the Penguins?
The Red Wings found a perfect way to move halfway to a repeat - beat the Pittsburgh Penguins back-to-back.
So much for Detroit being old, beaten down and needing a break. The Red Wings topped the Penguins 3-1 in Game 2 of the finals Sunday night and are two wins from holding onto the Stanley Cup.
Just as they did a year ago in winning the title for the 11th time and fourth in 11 seasons, the Red Wings took the first two games from the Penguins at home. This year posed a new challenge, sweeping a pair on consecutive nights three days after finishing the Western Conference finals.
Rookie defenseman Jonathan Ericsson , who watched that series clincher Wednesday night in the dressing room hours after having his appendix removed, scored the tying goal for Detroit in the second period.
Valtteri Filppula added the go-ahead tally 6:08 later, and Justin Abdelkader scored his second of the series in the third. The Red Wings left the ice in front of their cheering, towel-waving fans and headed for Pittsburgh with another commanding lead.
Game 3 is Tuesday night, and the odds favor the Red Wings ' quest to become the NHL's first repeat champion since they did it in 1997 and '98. Teams that win Games 1 and 2 at home have captured the Cup 31 of 32 times.
The odds, and pretty much everything else, are stacked up against the Penguins, who should be much better this time around against Detroit. They're not. It's just not their year. I doubt whether they'll take even one game from Detroit right now.
This is just lunacy, however:
There are people inured to the charms of Detroit who have wanted to beat a retreat from that noble city, but the NHL is moving quicker here than a summer thunderstorm. The Red Wings and Penguins then will play Game 3 on Tuesday in Pittsburgh. Unless my math is off, that represents three games in four days, a haste that previously has been on display in the final only by Paul Coffey on the rush and sportswriters battling the twin demons of deadlines and last call.
Goodness, three games in four days. If you didn't know better, you might have guessed this was January in the Southeast Division.
While the NHL deserves moderate applause for taking smelling salts and reversing its original lunatic announcement that the final would start June 5 if either conference final went beyond four games -- hockey would have been harder to find than D.B. Cooper if it had disappeared for more than a week at this time of year -- the decision to hustle through the first two games to suit NBC's tastes is misguided.
The network pays the NHL in rights fees exactly the number of combined playoff wins by Montreal and St. Louis this spring -- yes, zero -- but it has a disproportionately loud voice in scheduling the league's showcase event. For the niche NHL, NBC represents exposure. (The network is televising Games 1 and 2, then 5 through 7 while Games 3 and 4 are on Versus, the league's subterranean cable partner.) The suspicion is that if NBC, which has not re-upped beyond this year, wanted the NHL to paint the crease area lavender instead of blue, Commissioner Gary Bettman would send out a minion with a watercolor set.
The National Hockey League HAS to kowtow to the wishes of NBC; the league is struggling to receive any national exposure whatsoever. Taking a cheap shot at Gary Bettman is par for the course. In a perfect world, the criticism might be valid, but please. We may very well see the Stanley Cup won in game 4 on a cable network which has a national distribution rate of next to nothing. Nothing.
The NHL is going to have to work hard to find a new television deal anyway. Carping about it doesn't change the fact that it's not their table. It's NBC's table, and they're going to put on it whatever they want, and the NHL has to eat what is put in front of it.
Hockey is the greatest sport ever, but you wouldn't know it if you were dropped down into this world at this stage in its history.