The Penguins won't say that their power play could be a difference-maker in the Stanley Cup final.
They don't have to.
The numbers make the point more eloquently than any words could.
The Penguins got two goals -- including Sergei Gonchar's winner -- on three chances with the extra man in their 4-2 victory against Detroit in Game 3 at Mellon Arena last night, and they are 3 for 6 in the series.
There are NBA teams that would like to convert free throws with that sort of regularity.
"When you can get two power-play goals in a key game like this ... it was a great thing to have," Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said.
So are guys such as Evgeni Malkin, who assisted on the Penguins' first three goals, and Max Talbot, who has a penchant for producing in high-stakes settings.
It was, remember, Talbot's goal late in regulation that sent Game 5 of the 2008 Cup final into the first of three overtimes, and he got the Penguins' first and fourth goals last night.
"It's fun to be there in those pressure situations," Talbot said.
There figure to be plenty more of those tomorrow night, when the Penguins and Red Wings meet in Game 4 at Mellon Arena. The series will shift back to Detroit for Game 5 Saturday, with the Red Wings leading, 2-1.
THIRD PERIOD / 10:29 --Tied, 2-2, on a power play, Penguins defenseman Sergei Gonchar controls a puck at the top of the slot and fires a slap shot. Bill Guerin is in front, scrumming with Detroit defenseman Brad Stuart, setting a screen. Red Wings goaltender Chris Osgood waves his hand at the puck but comes up empty. The puck hits twine, and the Penguins claim a lead they would not surrender. The goal was Gonchar's first of the series.
Had the Red Wings won last night, any hint of suspense would have been wrung out of the series. Only one team, the 1942 Toronto Maple Leafs, rallied from a 3-0 deficit to win a Cup final, and these Red Wings are not the kind of club any opponent is going to beat four times in a row.
"I don't want to say it was a must-win," Talbot said. "But I think everyone knows we needed to win."
Gonchar provided their margin of victory when, at 10:29 of the third period, he drove a slap shot from the top of the slot past Detroit goalie Chris Osgood to break a 2-2 tie.
Not coincidentally, Osgood had a much better view of Penguins right winger Bill Guerin, who was positioned directly in front of him at the time, than he did of Gonchar's shot, which sailed past him on the glove side.
Both teams had been 1 for 2 on the power play in the first 40 minutes. The Penguins got the only man-advantage of the third when Jonathan Ericsson was sent off for interfering with Matt Cooke at 9:06.
"They got the power play in the third period, and we didn't," Red Wings coach Mike Babcock said. "It's not like we couldn't have had some power plays in the third period. We could have. It just didn't go that way."
Talbot gave the Penguins a 1-0 lead at 4:48 of the opening period, when he took a feed from Malkin and one-timed a shot past Osgood from the slot for his fifth goal of the playoffs.
Just 91 seconds later, however, Henrik Zetterberg collected the rebound of a Ville Leino shot and threw it past Penguins goalie Marc-Andre Fleury from the inner edge of the right circle to tie the score, and Johan Franzen put Detroit in front, 2-1, with a power-play goal at 11:33.
That proved to be the last of Detroit's 29 shots that eluded Fleury, whose performance easily was his strongest of the series.
"We needed big performances from our special teams and our goaltender, and we certainly got them," Bylsma said.
Kris Letang countered Franzen's goal, beating Osgood from near the top of the left circle on a power play at 15:57, but that was around the time Detroit began to take control of the game.
"I thought they played a good first 10 minutes," Babcock said. "I thought we took the game over for about the next 30."
The Penguins didn't argue the point.
"They played a great game in the second," Bylsma said. "We got off our game a little bit."
The Penguins recovered during the second intermission, though, and had the better of play in the final period, even though Detroit had outscored its opponents, 19-6, in the third to that point.
"They played a good third period," Babcock said.
Gonchar put them in front, and Talbot sealed the outcome with an empty-netter at 19:03. And, suddenly, it's a series again.
"We played some of our best hockey when our backs are against the wall," Eaton said. "And, obviously, they were coming into tonight. They still are."
Dave Molinari can be reached at email@example.com . First Published June 3, 2009 4:00 AM