PITTSBURGH (AP) - The Detroit Red Wings are talking and acting like a team with a hammerlock 3-0 grip of a lead in the Stanley Cup finals against Pittsburgh, rather than the more precarious 2-1 advantage they own going into Game 4.
Coach Mike Babcock, goalie Chris Osgood and several other players who made their way to Mellon Arena on what otherwise was an off day for hockey Thursday were uncommonly loose, relaxed and confident.
So loose, they hardly looked like a team that, barely 12 hours before, twice fell behind by two goals while allowing Sidney Crosby to score twice in Pittsburgh's 3-2 victory in Game 3. The must-win game for Pittsburgh made certain the Red Wings can't clinch in Game 4 on Saturday night.
The Red Wings preferred to talk about what went right rather than what went wrong, even if there were mistakes aplenty following two near-perfect games in Detroit. Babcock seemed to wish that Game 4 was being played in a few hours, saying, "It should be a lot of fun."
"I mean, we still have a great feeling in our dressing room, and Mike is going to be the first to tell you that," forward Kris Draper said. "We knew this was going to be a series, and that's what it's turned into."
A series the Red Wings can firmly control again if they win Game 4, which would give them a chance to raise the Cup in Game 5 at Joe Louis Arena on Monday. A loss means they forfeit that considerable momentum and guarantee themselves a return trip to Pittsburgh, where the Penguins haven't lost in 17 games since Feb. 24.
For the Red Wings, the preferred scenario is obvious.
"No sense beating yourself up over it," Babcock said of Game 3, in which the Red Wings pressured furiously during a 16-shot third period to tie it but couldn't. "We didn't win the game. It's a new day. It's sunny. Let's go."
Considering the give-no-ground, never-show-a-grin mentality many coaches have carried into the finals, Babcock's upbeat attitude following a difficult loss was an undeniable change of pace.
The only ones smiling more than the Red Wings were the Penguins, who acknowledged that going down 3-0 in the series would have created a near-impossible comeback scenario.
Now, their goal is to make sure this wasn't a one-game reprieve. The Penguins more than made a game of it in Game 3; now they've find out if they can make a series of it.
"That team, when they get confidence, they could accomplish a lot of things," coach Michel Therrien said of his Penguins. "And this is what we've proved so far. ... We deserved to win, and they're going to feel good about themselves."
No doubt the Penguins would feel better if their once-dangerous power play was clicking; they are 1-for-11 with the man advantage, while Detroit is almost as bad at 2-for-19.
Still, the Penguins believe all the momentum will shift their way if they win Game 4. They are decidedly younger than the Red Wings, and they believe a longer series favors them, even though they still must win at least once in Detroit to win the Stanley Cup.
"They do have a lot of older guys," defenseman Brooks Orpik said. "So I think the more you can pound on them, it definitely takes a toll during the end of the series."
The Red Wings have had trouble putting away some series, even if none of their playoff rounds this spring has lasted longer than six games. They were tied by Nashville at 2-2 after winning the first two games and Dallas won two in a row from them after being down 3-0.
Babcock acknowledged that, by this stage of the playoffs, "It's a grind. It goes forever. Just never seems to end."
To the Penguins, the longer they delay that end, the better.
One worry for Pittsburgh is forward Johan Franzen's re-emergence. He scored his playoffs-leading 13th goal while taking six shots Wednesday, one game after returning from a six-game layoff with recurring headaches.
With Pittsburgh's Evgeni Malkin (one goal in seven games), Marian Hossa (one goal in five games) and Petr Sykora (one goal in 12 games) all slumping, Franzen could be a difference maker if he keeps playing the way he did in Game 3.
The Red Wings had several stretches Wednesday in which they dominated but had trouble scoring, getting nine of the game's first 10 shots and 16 of the final 21.
"I thought it was the best sign in the game for us, the Mule was back," Babcock said, referring to Franzen's nickname. "He was dominant for us. He's just a good, good player. We're excited to see that."
Babcock was less excited to see Crosby be so dominant, during a big game that was a decided pick-me-up for Pittsburgh.
"When I watch Crosby, he looks to me like a guy with a lot of will," Babcock said. "If your best player has a ton of will, I think you have a chance to get everybody to improve."
The major worry for Pittsburgh is that, through three games, only Crosby and Adam Hall have scored.
"Like I told our team, we always respond really well to challenges, all season long. ... It's a big challenge (in Game 3) and I thought they responded really well," Therrien said. "It won't be any different Saturday. It's going to be another huge challenge game for us."