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by | Jun 1, 2009 | Detroit Free Press, Sports | 0 comments

The two flashiest players in these Stanley Cup finals are conspicuous by their absence. But only one of them, Pavel Datsyuk, is in street clothes. The other one is actually wearing skates, although compared to the way he usually plays, you’d never know it.

Sidney Crosby, the face of the NHL (if you ask the NHL), the biggest star in this series (if you ask the NHL), the man who is supposed to lead the revenge call for his Penguins teammates, has been as noticeable as a chorus line member. Yes, he’s out there. But he’s not really in there. Thanks to a blanket of Detroit defenders, for the second game, Crosby – who has 28 points in the playoffs – had no goals and no assists.

This might not be terrible for Pittsburgh, if A) it had won either game or B) a kid named Justin Abdelkader, a 22-year-old who was playing in Grand Rapids when May began, didn’t have two goals in 24 hours, and wasn’t doing things fans expected Crosby to do.

One night after Abdelkader scored a ridiculous goal on a flip/catch/drop/shoot, he scored another while chasing a bouncing puck as if it were a runway dog. He pursued, pursued and finally just swatted at it – with two defensemen in tow – and his puck flew past Marc-Andre Fleury for a 3-1 lead, the second time in as many nights.

“Sometimes you just have to throw a puck on the net and hope it goes in,” he told CBC afterward.

And all Crosby could do was watch.

Who’s flashy now?

A rough series for Sid the Kid

Abdelkader is one of those hockey stories: a guy who’s only on the roster because of an injury to someone else, and now you can’t sit him down. At his age, he appears lucky to grow the thin beard that he has, and until these finals, his biggest goal was at Michigan State. We would tell you he symbolizes the Red Wings’ incredible depth – but that would such a familiar story.

Meanwhile, amazingly, Crosby is becoming one as well. Last year, the Mr. Everything of the NHL had a blanket thrown over him by the name of Henrik Zetterberg. You could understand Crosby’s struggles then; it was his first finals, he was only 20, the weight of the league on his shoulders.

But this time? Well. The storyline was that Crosby would not let his team be beaten. And maybe, before this is over, that will be true. He did not play badly Sunday – not by the end. “Crosby’s competing like crazy,” Mike Babcock told NBC. “So is (Evgeni) Malkin. If you’re gonna slow them down, you gotta be on top of them.”

Which is where the Wings have been. And after two games, the Pens superstar has put nothing on the board – which is where superstars are expectedly measured.

The weight of the world

Meanwhile, Detroit has gotten a lot from unexpected sources. How about Jonathan Ericsson, who last week was having his appendix removed – that is not a typo – scoring a tying goal? How about Valtteri Filppula, who has mostly assisted (one goal before Sunday versus 13 assists), sweeping a rebound backward the way you flick the last pile of crumbs into a dustpan to net the game-winner?

And how about Zetterberg, last seen going mano-a-mano with Malkin? It is true that with that beard, if you threw a vest on Zetterberg, he’d be one of the Amish brothers in “Witness.” But he’s playing a great series against Crosby, draping him, frustrating him, while providing valuable backup help for Chris Osgood.

This was most noticeable in the third period, when Crosby hovered over Osgood and fired, hitting the far post, seeing the puck shoot across behind Osgood and come back to Crosby ,who fired again. Osgood never saw it. Zetterberg did, diving in and keeping the puck out, tucking it under his arm like a child saved from a fire.

If you’re Pittsburgh, maybe you call that bad luck. And it’s true, the Pens have had more of that than the Wings – who were not perfect. But they are perfect on the scoreboard, they are halfway to a Cup, and there’s no pressure on one Detroit superstar to make sure he leads the way in Game 3.

Pittsburgh, right now, cannot say the same.


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Mitch Albom writes about running an orphanage in impoverished Port-au-Prince, Haiti, his kids, their hardships, laughs and challenges, and the life lessons he’s learned there every day.

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