The Stanley Cup wasn't on the line this time, but the result was still the same.
Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin scored in the shootout and the Pittsburgh Penguins ruined a brilliant 46-save effort by Detroit Red Wings goalie Jimmy Howard with a 2-1 victory Sunday afternoon at Mellon Arena.
It was the first game between the teams that have met in the Stanley Cup Final in consecutive years since the Penguins won Game 7 at Joe Louis Arena last June to complete their rally from 2-0 and 3-2 deficits and avenge a six-game loss to the Wings the previous season.
"It's a lot of fun playing against them," Penguins forward Jordan Staal said. "They're always big games and they're always tough."
Maxime Talbot, the goal-scoring hero that night, was out of the Penguins' lineup on Sunday due to a groin injury, but goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury did start and finished with 23 saves. He denied Jason Williams in the shootout, while Pavel Datsyuk missed on his attempt.
Crosby put a shot under the crossbar in the second round to give Pittsburgh the edge and Malkin put the finishing touches on the afternoon when he scored his first shootout goal of the season and just the sixth of his career in 26 attempts. He skated in slowly on Howard and used several fakes before putting a backhander into the net.
"I think Geno should have lots of confidence (in shootouts)," Crosby said. "He has great moves and that one was a pretty good example of it."
Pittsburgh has been involved in seven shootouts this season and won them all, a fact that hardly seemed to take Howard by surprise.
''I wonder why? They got Malkin and Crosby. I mean, Crosby knocked the water bottle out of the sleeve (on top of the net), it was such a backhand. Malkin, he just came in and just started stickhandling. There's not much you can do there,'' Howard said.
Trailing 1-0 entering the third period, the Red Wings drew even when Cleary scored his 11th of the season, deflecting a Brad Stuart shot past Fleury. With the point, Detroit pulled even with Calgary for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference.
"We were on our heels a little bit, I think we gave them too much respect," Detroit's Niklas Kronwall said. "We have to do a way better job. It's going to be a tough year if we keep letting 40-plus shots go past us. He (Howard) is keeping us in games."
Crosby had opened the scoring with 3:14 remaining in the second period. Malkin backhanded a pass from center ice that found defenseman Alex Goligoski skating down right wing into the Detroit zone. Goligoski sent a bullet pass across the ice to Crosby, who controlled it near the bottom of the left circle and cut across the slot. Howard had committed over toward the right post and couldn’t get back across the crease, leaving plenty of net open for Crosby to deposit his 34th goal of the season.
"We were able to generate a lot," Crosby said. "We deserved to win that in 60 minutes, but they're a veteran team and they know how to win. And we knew he (Howard) was playing solid, but we never expect any goalie (to hold us) to one goal in 40-some shots."
Material from wire services was used in this report.