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Abdelkader upstages Crosby star act in finals

THIS year's Stanley Cup finals were billed as a perfect stage for Pittsburgh Penguins captain Sidney Crosby to act as the star performer, instead little-known Detroit winger Justin Abdelkader has leapt into the limelight.

Crosby's image has taken such a prominent place in the lead-up to the rematch of last season's finals that Red Wings coach Mike Babcock quipped recently he had to remind himself that it was Detroit which lifted the Cup in 2008.

Unlike Crosby, rookie Abdelkader was virtually unknown before this series began but two goals in as many games has made the 22-year-old Detroit's top scorer and given the defending champions a healthy 2-0 lead in the best-of-seven series.

"He's obviously been very good for us," forward Dan Cleary told reporters.

"He's a young player, he's going to be a great NHL player."

Pittsburgh lost last year's finals in six games and a similar result appears likely after Detroit retained home advantage with back-to-back 3-1 victories.

Only the Montreal Canadiens have managed to lift the Stanley Cup after losing the first two games on the road, beating the Chicago Blackhawks 4-3 in 1971.

Coming into the finals Crosby was on a tear, tied at 28 points with teammate Evgeni Malkin for the lead in the National Hockey League playoff scoring race.

The 21-year-old is three shy of his 400th career point and has been tipped as a possible captain for Canada at the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver.

However, after all the hype ahead of the rematch, Crosby has failed to score in the first two games, mainly due to strong defensive play from Detroit's Swedish forward Henrik Zetterberg.

For the first time in the 2009 playoffs, Crosby has been left goalless for consecutive games and has only managed two shots in the series to date.

If Crosby's lack of output is a surprise, Abdelkader's rapid rise is equally as stunning.

The Michigan-native scored his first and second NHL goals on consecutive nights and prior to Saturday's Game 2, his greatest claim to fame was scoring the winner in the 2007 NCAA championship for Michigan State.


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