PITTSBURGH (AP)—The Detroit Red Wings applied so much pressure and were so in control at times while pushing for the victory that would have effectively ended the Stanley Cup finals, the Pittsburgh Penguins could have used an extra man.
Turns out they had one for nearly 30 seconds during their 4-2 comeback win in Game 3 on Tuesday, an advantage the on-ice officials didn’t spot despite some frantic stick-pounding by those on the Red Wings’ bench.
Need any more proof the Penguins were willing to do anything to save the series?
In reality, it was more like bend but don’t break for the Penguins as the Red Wings took a 2-1 lead during a frantic first period, then were so dominating during the second period that they ended it with a 26-11 advantage in shots.
One more goal, one more power play might have ended it, until the Penguins suddenly found themselves and recovered to take a 3-2 lead on Sergei Gonchar’s(notes) power-play goal with 10:29 gone in the third.
Just in time, too, as the Penguins understood what falling behind Detroit 3-0 in the best-of-seven series would mean—a potential Stanley Cup-clincher as early as Thursday in their own arena, where the Red Wings raised the Cup in Game 6 last spring.
“I don’t want to say it was a must win, but I think everybody knows that we needed to win this game,” said Talbot, whose two goals while shifting between several lines included an empty-net score in the final minute.
In winning, the Penguins had everything they lacked in losing twin 3-1 decisions in the first two games in Detroit, including start-to-finish confidence, resiliency and scoring from throughout their lineup. A sense of desperation, too.
“No team wants to go down 3-0,” forward Jordan Staal(notes) said. “I think we’re starting to understand the way we have to play and it seemed like everyone really came together and did the right things out there.”
Goalie Marc-Andre Fleury(notes) didn’t allow any soft goals and, during Detroit’s second-period surge, played better than he has since making 45 saves during a key first-round game in Philadelphia. He also outplayed Chris Osgood(notes), who lost for only the third time in 13 finals games.
“I know in the first and second game, maybe he got criticized a little bit,” Talbot said of Fleury, who made 27 saves. “Tonight, he was definitely first.”
Sidney Crosby(notes) still didn’t find the net as Henrik Zetterberg(notes) shadowed him whenever possible—Crosby has one assist in three games—but playoff scoring leader Evgeni Malkin(notes) set up the first three goals. Malkin, almost invisible at times during last year’s finals, has 33 points in 20 games—the most since Joe Sakic(notes) had 34 for Stanley Cup champion Colorado in 1996.
“They got the power play in the third period and we didn’t,” Babcock said.
Most of all, the Penguins stood up to the Red Wings even after the defending champs answered Talbot’s first goal with scores by Zetterberg and Johan Franzen(notes). Those goals briefly quieted an all-in-white crowd that could sense it might be watching the Red Wings effectively secure their fifth Stanley Cup since 1997.
So far, the finals have featured the same scenario as last year. Detroit wins the first two at home, then loses a tight Game 3 in Pittsburgh. Last year, the Red Wings took a 3-1 lead by winning Game 4 in Pittsburgh, which allowed them to survive a three-overtime Game 5 loss at home before they finished off Pittsburgh in Game 6.
But the Penguins have played better in each of the three games than they did last spring and, the Red Wings understand the hard part is yet to come.
“I think in the two at home, one of them could have gone the other way,” Babcock said. “I think this series is where it should be. These are two good teams going at it.”
A noisy one, too, for Hossa, who disappointed the Penguins by leaving them after last year’s finals to sign with Detroit. He was booed repeatedly by Pittsburgh fans, although Hossa said he was so focused on playing that he barely noticed.
Especially not with the Penguins sneaking back into the series.
“We knew it wasn’t going to be easy,” Hossa said.