BOSTON -- This wasn't just Game 3 of the Eastern Conference final.
It was a 96-minute mettle detector.
And the Penguins, coming off a miserable showing in a 6-1 loss 48 hours earlier, set it off. Repeatedly.
They showed commitment and character. Made adversity fuel their game rather than sabotage it. Did just about everything they believed would be necessary to win.
But still lost.
And, in the wake of a 2-1 double-overtime defeat by Boston at TD Garden early this morning, will have to pull off a historic comeback to avoid having their season end well short of a Stanley Cup championship.
Boston has a 3-0 lead in the East final, and only three teams have rallied from such a deficit win a series in the Stanley Cup playoffs.
"Of course it can be done," Penguins winger Craig Adams said. "We beat this team three times (in the regular season). We know we can beat them.
"But the problem with dropping the first two (games) is that now there's no margin for error."
Although the Bruins were the last team to experience such an collapse, squandering a 3-0 advantage against Philadelphia in 2010, Boston goalie Tuukka Rask doesn't look like he's a run of four consecutive losses, just waiting to happen.
He stopped 53 of the 54 shots the Penguins threw at him in Game 3, and has given up just two goals in three games to the NHL's most volatile offense.
Bruins center Patrice Bergeron rewarded Rask for his work in Game 3 by deflecting a Brad Marchand pass behind Penguins goalie Tomas Vokoun at 15:19 of the second overtime for the game-winner.
The Bruins will have a chance to wrap up a spot in the Stanley Cup final with a victory in Game 4 at TD Garden Friday. If the Penguins are able to force a Game 5, it will be Sunday at Consol Energy Center.
Penguins coach Dan Bylsma gave his team a significantly different look for Game 3, moving Jarome Iginla from left wing on the No. 2 line to right wing on the third unit. He was joined there by rookie left winger Beau Bennett, a healthy scratch for nine of the previous 10 games.
Left winger Matt Cooke, meanwhile, moved up from the third line to the second, with Evgeni Malkin and Neal.
The Penguins, who haven't had a lead in the series, fell behind just 102 seconds after the opening faceoff on a bad bounce.
Bruins center David Krejci's shot from low in the circle glanced off defenseman Matt Niskanen and got past Vokoun.
Vokoun kept his composure, though, and his teammates, who had all but melted down at times during a 6-1 loss in Game 2, didn't unravel, either.
The Penguins had been abused on faceoffs during the first two games of the series, but got dramatically better in Game 3, going 51-38 and getting their only goal off a clean faceoff win by Sidney Crosby.
He controlled the puck and it ended up with Paul Martin at the right point. Martin carried it all the way to the goal line, then fed the puck into the left circle to Chris Kunitz, who buried a shot behind Rask at 8:51 of the second for his fifth of the playoffs.
That turned out to be the only puck that eluded Rask, however, even though the Penguins sent dozens toward him.
"We had a lot of good looks, and definitely threw a lot of pucks there," Neal said. "We just couldn't quite finish.
"We definitely had the in-zone pressure that we wanted, that we hadn't had in the last two games."
The Penguins did a lot of things the way they'd hoped to from the start of the series -- "We played exactly the game we wanted to," Iginla said -- but were betrayed again by a power play that had been the league's best during the previous two rounds.
It had six chances and failed to capitalize on any, despite generating several opportunities.
"We got very good shots from good spots," Iginla said. "But it didn't go in."
And so the Penguins must try to extend their season Friday, to restore the pulse that was so strong for most of Game 3.
"You have to win four, right?" Iginla said "It's a tough one to take tonight, because 2-1 is a lot different than 3-0, but we're a very good team and capable of some big things."mobilehome - breaking - penguins
Dave Molinari: Dmolinari@Post-Gazette.com or Twitter @MolinariPG First Published June 6, 2013 4:15 AM