PITTSBURGH — The Pittsburgh Penguins and Detroit Red Wings had a decent rivalry going for a stretch of years, dating to the Red Wings’ time in the Western Conference when the teams met in the 2008 and ’09 Stanley Cup final – with each team winning once.
That has died back a lot now. There is a great disparity in the franchises’ place in the NHL as they prepare to meet in a national network game Sunday afternoon at PPG Paints Arena.
The Penguins are still contenders, while Detroit is languishing at the bottom of the standings in the East.
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The Red Wings (23-25-10) had to claw to get a 3-2 shootout win Saturday against Washington after blowing a two-goal lead. That ended a five-game losing streak.
Now Detroit goes on the road for the second of back-to-back games against another one of the East’s powerhouses.
“We’re going in and playing a good team (Sunday),” Red Wings leading scorer Henrik Zetterberg said. “If we have the same effort that we had (Saturday), we will have a good chance. We’ve just got to keep going.”
The matchup might not have the same feel as in some recent seasons, but the Red Wings are finding motivation nonetheless.
“We have a lot of pride,” center Dylan Larkin told the Detroit Free Press. “We want to close out this year and do everything we can to give us a good run.”
Petr Mrazek (13-15-6) is expected to start in goal for the Red Wings for the second day in a row. The Penguins are expected to go with Matt Murray (21-6-3) in net.
“You can’t ask any more from Petr, I would say the last four or five starts, but we haven’t been able to get him the Ws,” Zetterberg said. “We’ve just got to find a way to score goals.”
Pittsburgh (36-13-8) is on a run of nine games with at least a point (6-0-3) and is in a tight race with Washington, Columbus and the Rangers for the top spot or two in the Metropolitan Division and the Eastern Conference.
The defending Stanley Cup champions can feel the stretch run bearing down on them.
“Regardless of who we play, we want to make sure we’re building our game into a playoff identity,” Penguins defenseman Brian Dumoulin told the Pittsburgh Tribune Review. “That obviously starts now.”
The Penguins will honor center Sidney Crosby in a brief pregame ceremony for reaching 1,000 points on Thursday night. Their other all-world center, Evgeni Malkin, won’t have anything special planned for reaching 500 assists on Friday night, but Pittsburgh is thrilled to have him healthy and on the ice.
Malkin, in three games back from a left leg injury, has two goals, three assists. He also has been physical and beyond, standing up for himself and teammates and three penalties.
“There’s a fine line. We don’t want him to be in the penalty box. He’s too valuable for us on the ice. We want to keep him on the ice as best we can,” Pittsburgh coach Mike Sullivan said. “But he’s an emotional player, and he plays the game hard. That’s a part of it.
“I think ‘Geno’ is playing extremely well right now. He’s playing a hard game. As long as he’s doing that and maintains a level of discipline when he can, then he’s going to help us win.”
While Malkin found being sidelined for seven games by his injury frustrating, he admits to benefiting from the time off.
“I’m a little bit fresh,” he said. “I (hadn’t) played in two weeks. That’s a long time for me. I’m excited to be back. I’m having fun. I’m enjoying playing.”