Swedish star Johan Franzén scored the go-ahead goal late in the second period and Chris Osgood made 31 saves for the Red Wings as they took a 1-0 lead in the best-of-seven series.
Franzén and Brad Stuart both had goals that went off Pittsburgh goalie Marc-Andre Fleury.
“We’re going to have to get goals like that,” Red Wings coach Mike Babcock said. “I don’t think there are going to be a whole lot of skill plays.”
There was no fortuitous bounce of the puck for Pittsburgh’s Sidney Crosby, whose third-period shot bounced off Osgood and a post and landed on the sprawled goalie’s back.
“It’s a race to four, and they got one,” said Penguins coach Dan Bylsma, whose team will try to even the score in game two on Sunday in Detroit.
Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, the two leading scorers in the postseason, were limited to one assist between them – by Malkin.
“When you’re on the road, the goal is win one of two, and if we play the way we did in the second period for 60 minutes, we like our chances,”
Pittsburgh forward Max Talbot said. “When they get the lead they’re a very good team, so maybe we need to get the lead (in game two).
Detroit rookie Justin Abdelkader gave the Red Wings a little extra breathing room with his first career playoff goal early in the third period.
Detroit welcomed back Swedish defensemen Nicklas Lidström and Jonathan Ericsson, and they played a key role in containing Crosby and Malkin.
Red Wings captain Lidström had missed the last two games of the Western Conference finals against Chicago with a lower body injury, while Ericsson played just three days after having an appendectomy.
“They’re a huge help on the blue line,” Red Wings forward Darren Helm said.
“The guys that played in their absence did an unbelievable job, but definitely having Nick, one of the best ‘D’ in the league, for him to come back and play against Crosby all night and keep him off the scoreboard’s really big for this team.”
Crosby and the Penguins are seeking to avenge their six-game loss to Detroit in last year’s finals.
It’s the first Stanley Cup finals rematch in 25 years, and Stuart put the Red Wings ahead when he deposited the puck behind Fleury and saw it carom off Fleury and into the net with 6:22 to play in the opening period.
“I think he sat on it and pushed it in the net,” Stuart said. “One of those lucky breaks – but we’ll take it.”
The Penguins answered as Malkin capitalized on turnover with a slap shot that Osgood couldn’t control, leading to Ruslan Fedotenko’s backhander off the rebound.
Detroit went ahead 2-1 in the final minute of the second period when Brian Rafalski’s shot bounced off the boards and Franzen corralled the loose puck and flipped a backhander over and off of the goalie.