May 29, 2008
"The Penguins need to bottle up whatever they ate, drank or snorted tonight and save some for Saturday night." -- Seth Rorabaugh, Empty Netters.
"Sidney Crosby delivered the kind of magical nights people talk about 20 years later. It's as if he told his teammates, ‘Jump on my back boys, I'm going to carry us back into this final.'" -- Pierre LeBrun, Canadian Press
"Crosby, the team's 20-year-old wunderkind and captain, is the beacon lighting the way for the Pens." -- New York Times
Although the Pittsburgh Penguins' Game 3 win over the Detroit Red Wings abruptly thrust the Stanley Cup finals into uncertainty, there was one guarantee after the Pens ended the Wings' rally in the third period: The pendulum would swing completely the other way for the puck punditry.
Talk of the Red Wings as an impenetrable defensive machine would be drowned out by the fanboy shrieks and sports clichés about Sidney Christ resurrecting the Penguins. We ran a poll during our live blog coverage of Game 3, asking what fans consider the most overexposed part of the Sidney Crosby story; 76% answered, "His role as 'The Next One.'"
Hey, great news: Last night's performance earned Sid comparisons to Mark Messier to go along with those ever-present Gretzky raves. Fantastic.
So was Game 3 a case of Sidney superiority, or Detroit depression?
Our own Matt Romig struck the right balance in his review of Crosby's performance: Opportunistic, a little lucky but utterly clutch. The same could be said of the rest of the Penguins, who outworked the Red Wings all night. The boys at the KB noted that Detroit players like Henrik Zetterberg weren't charging as hard as they had in the previous two games; indeed, there was no sense of urgency until after Adam Hall's goal in the third period.
The biggest difference for the Penguins? Room to operate. From the first period on, Pittsburgh was getting creative with their breakout passes, including a few billiards shots that glanced off the boards in front of the benches. And what a difference a goal makes: Crosby's two tallies loosened the Red Wings' stranglehold on the neutral zone and created many more quality shots for Pittsburgh -- the Penguins' 13 shots in the second period were a series high.
There are signs of encouragement for the Penguins. But they didn't break Chris Osgood; they merely solved him. They didn't dominate the Red Wings; they outplayed them for good stretches. They won the game, but as Mike Babcock said afterwards, Detroit can be much better:
I thought those guys tried to do too much tonight. I thought the coach played them too much, and I thought they tried to do too much. So they stayed on too long.
And we didn't have the same kind of tempo coming off our bench that we did in the first couple of games. I like the fact that you're trying. But you gotta do more by doing less. That's everybody. Just play the simple game that we play all the time and stay poised and keep going at it.
If nothing else, the Penguins deserve our adoration for turning this lopsided affair into an honest-to-goodness championship battle; and, for one night, giving fans a glimpse of the kind of classic series this should have been since the start.