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Pittsburgh – The second half of the season ended like the first half did for the Detroit Red Wings – with a loss to a very good opponent.

The Red Wings came off their five-day break Saturday with a 4-1 loss to the two-time defending Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins.

It was the second consecutive loss for the Red Wings (17-18-7, 41 points), who ended the first half with a loss to league-leading Tampa Bay.

“It’s tough leaving points out there,” said goaltender Jimmy Howard, who returned with 32 saves after missing one game to a knee injury. “We’re desperate to get wins. We need points every single night and we have to find a way to do that.”

The Red Wings can’t say they didn’t have opportunities against the Penguins.

The Red Wings had a staggering seven power plays and converted only once, Justin Abdelkader scoring his eighth goal, in the first period, tying the game 1-1.

BOX SCORE: Penguins 4, Red Wings 1

“If we were able to get one early it would have been a lot different,” forward Henrik Zetterberg said. “We had our chances 5-on-5, too; we had some real Grade-A chances and we turned them into Grade-D chances. We tried to make another play.”

Abdelkader suffered a lower-body injury, according to the team, and missed the third period, as did Darren Helm, who suffered a right leg injury.

Coach Jeff Blashill said both players will not be available for Sunday’s game in Chicago. After the game the Red Wings called up forward Dominic Turgeon from Grand Rapids.

More: Red Wings head to Chicago down Abdelkader, Helm

Blashill said there wasn’t enough of a shoot-first mentality from the Red Wings Saturday.

“We have to shoot the puck; we had opportunities to shoot the puck and we didn’t,” Blashill said. “Our power play has to be better. Our shooting mentality has to be better. The Zetterberg unit, when they were in the zone, were good, but we had trouble getting into the zone.

“The (Dylan) Larkin unit was discombobulated the whole night. They weren’t on the same page whatsoever. We have to be better than that. You get a chance to have an impact on the game.”

The Penguins had 36 shots to 30 for the Red Wings, though almost half of Detroit’s shots (14) came in the third period.

Evgeni Malkin had two goals and two assists, Phil Kessel had a goal and two assists, and Sidney Crosby had a goal and assist, as the Penguins’ Big Three combined for nine points.

“If you look at it their best players were better than our best players,” Zetterberg said. “That’s what it came down to. They scored and took care of business and we didn’t.”

It doesn’t get any easier for the Red Wings Sunday. They play Chicago (22-16-6, 50 points) in a nationally-televised game (12:30 p.m., NBC, 97.1).

The Red Wings fell eight points behind Pittsburgh and the New York Rangers for the final wild-card spot in the Eastern Conference.

“We’re just not in position where we can go and hope we didn’t miss a step (coming back) from the break,” forward Frans Nielsen said. “We had to come out here and play the right way and we didn’t do that.”

ted.kulfan@detroitnews.com

twitter.com/tkulfan

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