DETROIT – The Stanley Cup playoffs can be a grind.

Teams go after each other for 60 minutes and come back and do it again every other night.

But the NHL decided to do things differently for this year’s Cup finals, having the Red Wings and Penguins go back-to-back to kick off the series.

Detroit beat Pittsburgh 3-1 on Saturday night at Joe Louis Arena, and they’re back at it on Sunday night.

It marks the first time finals games are being played on consecutive days since 1955.

The been-there, done-that Wings were taking a practical approach to prepare for the unusual scheduling.

“You’ve got to make sure you get a lot of food in you … and get a good night’s sleep. … I think you have to keep the shifts a little bit shorter (on Sunday),” said Detroit captain Nicklas Lidstrom, who logged a game-high 24 minutes, 7 seconds of game time on Saturday night. “Keep your legs going again, but keep your shifts shorter and try to get the four lines rolling as well so everybody gets into it again. It’s a quick turnaround so you have to be ready again.”

For the Penguins, they’re more than happy to get back on the ice quickly with the chance to tie the series.

“We don’t have to think long about (the loss),” Pittsburgh forward Max Talbot said.

SID VICIOUS?: Sidney Crosby has improved many areas of his game beyond mere scoring prowess. Just one game into the Stanley Cup finals, the Pittsburgh Penguins captain is showing an edge, too.

Locked in an ongoing matchup with fellow top forward Henrik Zetterberg, the play has quickly turned physical. Midway through the first period of Pittsburgh’s 3-1 loss in Game 1, Crosby leveled Zetterberg in open ice.

“The battle going last night between Zetterberg and Crosby was a great battle, I thought,” Red Wings coach Mike Babcock said Sunday morning. “I thought he went head-hunting right off the hop. (Zetterberg’s) ability to respond was good. That’s a game within the game. If you’re a hockey purist and you like superstars who bring it, that’s a nice matchup.”

Crosby chuckled when Babcock’s remarks were relayed to him. The NHL’s third-leading scorer in the regular season averaged fewer than a penalty a game.

“I’m not going to get involved in his games,” he said of Babcock. “He can say whatever he wants. I don’t think I’ve been known as a head-hunter throughout my career. He’s the first one ever to say that, so it’s pretty interesting stuff.”

At the end of Game 1, agitating Red Wings forward Kirk Maltby annoyed Crosby to the point that Sid the Kid acted out and slashed him with his stick.

“He was doing what he always does. He was giving lip service and things like that,” Crosby said. “I two-handed him on top of the foot there as we were skating by. He felt like it was necessary to keep talking after the game, and I thought I’d whack him.

“It wasn’t anything out of the ordinary that’s never happened before. That was it.”

NOT LIKE THEY DREW IT UP: The Penguins’ inability to win faceoffs since the first round of the playoffs has carried into the finals, with Detroit winning 71 percent of the draws in Game 1. That’s an unusually one-sided percentage that allowed the Red Wings to repeatedly control the tempo and keep the puck in the Penguins’ zone.

The Penguins won 55.7 percent of their faceoffs during the opening round against Philadelphia, winning 44 more draws than the Flyers. They’ve since dropped to 49 percent, losing 22 more than they’ve won.

Sidney Crosby has gone from winning 63.5 percent of his faceoffs in the first round to 52.9 percent, and Evgeni Malkin (45 percent) and Max Talbot (43.8) are well below 50 percent.

“Sometimes in a game when you’re getting beat in one aspect of the game, you can get a little frustrated and not focus on what you need to do. We have a game plan,” coach Dan Bylsma said. “We’ve studied what those players will do in the faceoff circle. We went over those reminders again.”

No one needs to remind Detroit of the importance of winning faceoffs against Pittsburgh, according to center Darren Helm. Only Washington has been better than Detroit on faceoffs in the playoffs.

“We’re determined to destroy teams on faceoffs,” he said. “We focus on faceoffs every game.”

BIG, BIG JERSEY: The thousands of Red Wings fans in and around Joe Louis Arena this weekend aren’t the only ones donning the team’s famous red-and-white, winged-wheel jersey.

The 26-foot-tall bronze “Spirit of Detroit” statue that sits outside the Coleman A. Young Municipal Building – a few blocks from the Joe – has been fitted for its very own Wings sweater.

Outfitting the statue with an oversized jersey has become a tradition in Detroit. It has worn Tigers, Pistons and Shock jerseys in recent years as those teams made playoff runs.

The Red Wings paid a $6,500 fee to the Detroit-Wayne Joint Building Authority to assist in the maintenance of the statue, and all costs for the jersey and its installation also were paid by the team.

AP Hockey Writer Ira Podell and AP Sports Writer Alan Robinson contributed to this report.

AP-ES-05-31-09 1839EDT

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