Penguins' next goal: Build on Game 3 win
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It was, to most of the 17,000-plus souls wedged into Mellon Arena Wednesday night, a thing of rare and absolute beauty.
The kind of work Michelangelo might have produced. On a particularly inspired day.
To millions on TV watching around the world, it was a wildly entertaining spectacle, the type of game the NHL had fantasized this Stanley Cup final could produce.
But to the Penguins, their 3-2 victory over Detroit in Game 3 of the series wasn't much more than a step in the right direction.
A good starting point after back-to-back losses at Joe Louis Arena, to be sure, but hardly the best they can be. Or will have to be.
"I think I heard someone say we played a near-perfect game," defenseman Brooks Orpik said yesterday. "I can count numerous times where we gave up odd-man rushes.
- What: Game Four
- When: 8 p.m. Tomorrow
- Where: Mellon Arena
- TV, Radio: WPXI; WXDX-FM (105.9)
"We were definitely better than we were in the first couple of games. But it was nowhere near a perfect game."
It was, however, enough to get the Penguins back into the series. To put them in a position where they enter Game 4 at Mellon Arena tomorrow night trying to even the series, 2-2, rather than simply attempting to delay Detroit's celebratory parade by 48 hours.
"[Game 3] was a must-win for us," coach Michel Therrien said.
The urgency showed in his team's performance. The Penguins generated a series-best 24 shots on Detroit goalie Chris Osgood, breached the Red Wings' zone more frequently and efficiently than in the previous two games and, for the first time in the final, actually played with a lead.
Although Therrien downplayed the importance of opening the scoring -- "I don't pay too much attention to scoring the first goal," he said -- the plain truth is that the Penguins and Red Wings are a combined 23-1 when scoring first in these playoffs, 4-8 when they don't.
And Therrien's players apparently didn't get the first-goal-doesn't-matter memo, because the significance of not having to play from behind against the Red Wings came up in the conversation a lot yesterday.
"It was a cliche, but we talked about getting the first goal, and that was huge for us," center Max Talbot said. "We got it, and it was a different game for us, because it's easier to play.
"When you play against the Detroit Red Wings and they have the lead, it's kind of hard to come back because they're so smart and experienced."
Defenseman Ryan Whitney, among others, echoed that sentiment.
"I can't tell you how many times in the locker room we said before the game we want to see how they play from behind," he said. "When you have a lead, you are able to trap teams a little more and shut them down. We knew we could do that."
And there were other signs of progress. The Penguins were able to generate decent pressure on Detroit's defense, something that hadn't happened in Games 1 and 2. They were able to slow, sometimes stop, the Red Wings' attack in the neutral zone. They hit Detroit regularly and vigorously.
All of which reinforced their belief that they can compete with the Red Wings, who dictated most of what happened during Games 1 and 2.
Still, there is substantial room for improvement, and the Penguins should count on trying to make it if they intend to extend the series past Game 5 in Detroit Monday.
They have, for example, given Detroit 19 power plays in the series while getting just 11, four of which came during the opening period of Game 1. Given the game-breakers on the Red Wings' power play, limiting the number of opportunities Detroit has with the extra man is sound strategy.
"Obviously, the more [power plays] you have, the better chance your team is going to have to win," Penguins forward and penalty-killer Adam Hall said. "But I think it's just a matter of being disciplined."
There also is the issue of shots on goal. Detroit has launched 104 at Marc-Andre Fleury (including 34 in each of the past two games), while the Penguins have had just 65 on Osgood.
"We'd like to maybe outshoot them one game," Whitney said.
He shouldn't count on it. Detroit's 10-shot edge in Game 3 was its smallest of the series.
Such sobering statistics aside, however, the Penguins contend Game 3 wasn't just a breakthrough, but a template of sorts.
"We have way better in us," Talbot said. "Yes, we played a good game, and they did, too, but we know what it takes now."
First Published May 30, 2008 12:00 am