The National Hockey League's 'dream match-up' was a nightmare for the Pittsburgh Penguins in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup final.
It started badly enough when goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury fell face first as he made his customary pre-game sprint on to the ice, while veteran public address announcer Budd Lynch mistakenly called captain Sidney Crosby 'Steven' during the ceremonial faceoff.
But more importantly, the Penguins' youth and inexperience caught up with them in a 4-0 loss to the Detroit Red Wings, giving the Western Conference champions a 1-0 lead in the best of seven series.
"I don't know if it was the nerves, but definitely the worst performance in the playoffs," Penguins coach Michel Therrien said after the game. "We faced adversity through the season, but one thing we know, we always bounce back."
The Red Wings, with a combined 23 Stanley Cup rings in their lineup, played a perfect game against Pittsburgh, led by winger Mikael Samuelsson who scored the first two goals. Samuelsson, part of Detroit's 'Swedish Five' that includes captain Nicklas Lidstrom, Henrik Zetterberg, Niklas Kronwall and injured centre Johan Franzen, now has four goals in the playoffs. His last one was scored on May 1 in a two-goal performance against the Colorado Avalanche.
"Sammy's a streak guy," said Red Wings head coach Mike Babcock after the game. "When he scores, he feels good about himself."
After a spirited and scoreless affair through the first 33 minutes of play, Samuelsson had the puck in the neutral zone while several Penguins went off on a line change. He took advantage of the open ice and sprinted towards the Pittsburgh zone, going around the net and knocking in a wraparound off Marc-Andre Fleury's left pad.
"Bad decision on the puck, bad change, those are mental mistakes," explained Therrien. "You can't make mistakes like that against them."
Samuelsson delivered again with the insurance goal early in the third period - his second unassisted marker of the night. Revenge certainly wasn't on the agenda for the veteran winger, who was traded away by the Penguins at the 2003 NHL Draft for the right to select Fleury. "It was a couple of years ago," he told reporters after the game. "I don't think about it anymore."
Dan Cleary's shorthanded goal at the 17:20 mark and Henrik Zetterberg's power play marker with 13 seconds left sealed the win for the Wings, who host the Penguins for Game 2 at Joe Louis Arena on Monday.
The four Detroit goals highlighted a very energetic first game, with good scoring chances, huge hits, game-saving stops and even some controversy. With 4:40 left in the first frame, a Red Wings goal by Lidstrom was waived off because of another goaltender interference call on teammate Tomas Holmstrom. Detroit has now lost two goals because of calls against Holmstrom, whose stick made contact with Fleury before the puck went in.
"You watched the play, he wasn't in the crease," said an animated Babcock. "You saw the play, now we can't get the stick in the play? Let's move on to other topics."
Holmstrom's penalty was one of four that were called against Detroit in the first period, and the Red Wings held the Penguins off the board on each chance with stellar penalty killing and goaltending by Chris Osgood. The 35-year old stopped 19 shots for his second shutout of the postseason, including just seven saves over the last two periods. The lack of shots and opportunities weren't lost on Crosby, who had just three shots and was minus-1 for the night.
"We have a lot of speed," Crosby said after the game. "If we use our speed, we're going to create some chances or they're going to have to take some penalties. I felt pretty good, but you have to execute. We had a few pucks bounce around in the crease, and they just didn't go in."
Fleury, who also made his first appearance in the final, made 32 saves in the loss.
TSN.ca Game Notes: Chris Chelios, the oldest player in the NHL at 46, skated in the morning practice, but was scratched from the lineup. He played the first 14 games of the postseason for Detroit, but sat out Game 6 against Dallas. Also out of the lineup for Detroit was Franzen, who is still suffering from concussion-like symptoms while Pittsburgh forward Gary Roberts, who missed the final three games of the Eastern Conference final with pneumonia, was a healthy scratch.
This year's matchup marks the 23rd time the Red Wings are in the final, while the Penguins are making their third appearance and their first since winning the Cup in 1992.
The Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins clinched the AHL's Eastern Conference championship with a 3-2 victory over the Portland Pirates on Saturday night, marking the first time in nine years that an NHL team and its AHL affiliate are in their respective finals. On three occasions an AHL club and its NHL affiliate won their respective championships in the same year. In 1976 and 1977, the Montreal Canadiens won the Stanley Cup while the the Nova Scotia Voyageurs won the Calder Cup. In 1995, the Stanley Cup champion New Jersey Devils saw their AHL affiliate, the Albany River Rats, win a championship as well.