Penguins Notebook: Staal line returns to earlier top form

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The Penguins' third line, a major force in the first three rounds of the playoffs, was a virtual non-factor during the first two games of the Stanley Cup final.

Coincidentally or otherwise, the Penguins lost both.

In Game 3, center Jordan Staal and linemates Matt Cooke and Tyler Kennedy rebounded with strong performances as the Penguins won, 4-2. And while the play of that line isn't the only variable that will shape the outcome of the series, Staal said the Penguins should expect it to be strong the rest of the way.

"I thought we played really well [in Game 3]," he said yesterday. "We've been working hard. It finally paid off. It wasn't a one-game wonder. We want to keep doing it."

A few hours before Game 4, Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said he believed Staal had adapted to the Red Wings' style in their own end.

"I thought Game 3 was much improved over Game 1 and Game 2 from Jordan," Bylsma said. "Each team poses a different kind of obstacle down low in the offensive zone, which is where Jordan is really good.

"Some teams are physical, some teams [play] a little more passive, zone-type of defensive-zone coverage. For a guy like Jordan, who needs physical contact to be good down low, to protect the puck, it's not there. And it's just been a bit of an adjustment from the last series to this series.

"Another area where the game is tough against Detroit is the neutral zone. They have four guys back a lot. So the speed through the neutral zone that he did get in other series, it's tougher to come by right now. Those are areas that we all have to fight through."

Backup goalie primed

Marc-Andre Fleury has received a lot of attention during the Cup final; his goaltender partner, Mathieu Garon, has received almost none.

That isn't likely to change unless Fleury is injured, at which point Garon would go from afterthought to perhaps the pivotal figure in the series.

The odds of that happening aren't particularly good, of course, but the possibility is enough to keep Garon working hard every time he steps onto the ice, just in case his first in-game work since April 9 comes at a time when the Penguins are playing for their season.

"I don't want to think [about that] too much," he said yesterday. "I just want to have good practices and feel good. Physically, I'm feeling great. Obviously, if I had to play in a game, it would be a challenge, but at the same time, you just want to keep it simple."





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