With rags waving, life has been blown back into this series

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Very little was said in the Penguins' room at the end of the second period last night, according to those who were there. "Nothing had to be said," winger Max Talbot noted, quite correctly. Game 3 of the Stanley Cup final was tied, 2-2. Next goal figured to win. If the Detroit Red Wings got it and took an it's-over 3-0 lead in the series ...

"Let's face it, we knew it was pretty much a period for our season," defenseman Rob Scuderi said of the final 20 minutes.

Certainly, the Penguins played like it.

Defenseman Sergei Gonchar got that next goal, scoring with a sweet slapper on the power play with 9 1/2 minutes left. That and the Penguins' subsequent 4-2 win only seemed appropriate after the way they dominated that third period, outshooting the Red Wings, 10-3.

Who saw that coming?

I mean, really?

The great Red Wings normally own the third period, which is pretty much what it takes to win a Cup championship. During this playoff run, they had outscored their opponents, 19-6, in the third period. When they took the Penguins out in six games in the Cup final last spring, they outscored them, 9-3, in the third period.

The turnaround -- especially after Detroit was much the better team in the second period -- was stunning.

Suddenly, series on.

"We knew how important that third period was," Talbot said after getting the Penguins' first and final goals of the night. "I don't want to say it was a must-win for us, but everyone knew we had to win this game."

Certainly, the Penguins pulled out all the stops. It was midway through the first period when Penguins management shamelessly leaned on Mike Tomlin and Steelers Power to get an already revved Mellon Arena crowd more juiced. In a taped message on the scoreboard, Tomlin pleaded for more noise and fairly screamed, "This is our house! Let's go Pens!" That was quickly followed by shots of Steelers captains Hines Ward and James Farrior in the stands, dressed in white, of course, on another white-out night in the old building, waving their white rally rags just as so many have waved Terrible Towels in their honor.

The place erupted.

And the Red Wings scored almost immediately -- 21 seconds later, to be exact -- with Johan Franzen getting a power-play goal to give Detroit a 2-1 lead.

I might be wrong, but I don't think that was part of the overall plan.

But just when it seemed as if the Red Wings would take all of the suspense out of the series -- not to mention that 3-0 lead -- the Penguins came back in a big way. They got a tying power-play goal by defenseman Kris Letang late in the first period. They survived their rotten second period when the Red Wings totally dominated play, outshooting them, 14-4. And, most impressively, they were the better team in that crucial third period.

"That tying goal by Letang was huge," Penguins defenseman Brooks Orpik said. "Then, escaping that second period tied was huge. We looked up at the scoreboard, and it was still, 2-2. As bad as we played, we probably didn't deserve to be in the game."

Gonchar's goal made sure all of the Penguins' good work in the final period did not go to waste. He gets the glory for firing a wicked slapper from the near blue line, but don't underestimate the dirty job done by teammate Bill Guerin. He did exactly what you're supposed to do on a power play -- hover right in front of goaltender Chris Osgood, an immovable object if there ever was one. I'm not even sure Osgood saw the shot.

"I don't think he saw it at all," Orpik opined.

Ward and Farrior saw it, though.

They were among the 17,000 standing and screaming, waving those silly rags.

Surely, Tomlin also was beaming

This is our house!

It was a terrific win against a tremendous opponent, but it will mean something only if the Penguins can take Game 4 tomorrow night at Mellon Arena. In that doomed Cup final a year ago, they were outclassed in the first two games in Detroit, came home to win Game 3 -- yes, the final was 3-2, which was what last night's score was going to be before Talbot's empty-netter at the end -- but came up excruciatingly short in Game 4. They lost for the first time in 18 home games, 2-1, when their power play went 1 for 6 and they wasted nearly 1 1/2 minutes of a 5-on-3 advantage.

That was last year, the Penguins will tell you.

This is now.

"It's funny, that was probably the best game they played, and they came out on the losing end," Orpik said. "But we'll take it. We'll take a lot of confidence out of this game. We won and we know we can still play a lot better."

I repeat:

Series on.

Ron Cook can be reached at rcook@post-gazette.com .


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