Penguins take some air out of hot Wings

"We're a young team. It's a process with those guys."

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Turns out the Detroit Red Wings might not be a team for the ages. Might not be just about flawless in every phase of the game. Might not be coached by the greatest tactician and motivator in NHL history.

It probably came as a surprise to some, particularly those in Michigan, but the Red Wings will not win the Stanley Cup in four games. In fact, they might not win it at all.

Winning in a sweep became an impossibility last night when the Penguins won the third game of the best-of-seven series, 3-2, at Mellon Arena.

Detroit remains a solid favorite to win the Cup after thoroughly dominating the Penguins in the first two games. But the Penguins had to be heartened by their play. Although they trail in the series, 2-1, and the home-ice advantage remains with Detroit, they can look to the words of the man who coached Pittsburgh to its first Stanley Cup title, the late Badger Bob Johnson, for inspiration.

When the Penguins won the Cup in 1991, they trailed in every one of their four series -- once 3-2 and once 2-0. Being down never phased the legendary, optimistic Johnson and he wouldn't let it affect his players. "You can lose three games and still win the Cup," he was fond of saying when his team was down.

It's a frame of reference worth remembering.

What happened last night was that the heretofore superlative Red Wings proved to be mortal and Sidney Crosby did not.

It would be nice to report that Crosby and his teammates responded to a return to their home ice and picked up where they had left off last time, a 6-0 whipping of the Philadelphia Flyers that clinched the Eastern Conference championship. But that was not the case.

Through much of the first period, the Penguins looked pretty much like the helpless outfit that couldn't score a goal in two games in Detroit. The roar of another sellout crowd was lost as they looked every bit as perplexed by the Red Wings' play on the ice at Mellon as they had been at Joe Louis Arena.

The game was 15 minutes old before the Penguins got their second shot on goal. They crisply advanced the puck across their own blue line more often, but not by much. It looked like the same old story of the Penguins being badly outclassed by the Red Wings.

"The first 10 minutes we were on our heels," admitted coach Michel Therrien. "We're a young team. It's a process with those guys. We tried to change the momentum. We tried to bring more speed to the ice. For the last 10 minutes of the first period, we really took over. We took the momentum to the second period."

Detroit coach Mike Babcock saw it pretty much the same way, saying, "After they scored, they controlled the next 20 minutes of the game."

Crosby rose to the challenge of rallying his team. He scored the first goal of the game at 17:25 of the first period and put the Penguins ahead, 2-0, at 2:34 of the second period.

Babcock admitted he saw a different Penguins team in the third game.

"They got to the puck a little quicker," he said. "They scored first, which helped them. I thought Crosby and [Marian] Hossa were better. They had more energy, they controlled more plays.

"Give them credit. They found a way to win the game. They had some quality scoring chances."

Adam Hall added an insurance goal in the third period and Therrien couldn't have been happier for the journeyman forward.

"Adam Hall had the most important goal of his career," he said.

The Penguins needed a boost from their secondary players and they got it from Hall and Gary Roberts, who was on the ice for the final goal.

Also reassuring for the Penguins was the play of goalie Marc-Andre Fleury.

"He made some key saves," said Therrien. "I like his composure. I'm really pleased for him."

At the other end of the ice, the Penguins can take hope from the fact that Detroit goalie Chris Osgood ceased to have the look of a Ken Dryden or a Terry Sawchuk.

As well as the Red Wings played in the first two games, recent history tells us they maybe aren't quite that good. They lost twice in their opening-round series against Nashville, in the third and fourth games, and twice in the conference final to Dallas in the fourth and fifth games.

They are good, very good and possibly too good for the Penguins. But they are no lock to win this Cup. The Penguins showed last night they can play with the Red Wings. A series that once threatened to be over in a hurry has the look of one that will be around for a while.


Bob Smizik can be reached at bsmizik@post-gazette.com .


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