Crosby's heroics carry Pittsburgh back into Stanley Cup Final
Phil Coffey | NHL.com Editorial Director
The old cliché says your best players have to be at their best when the chips are down.
Sidney Crosby turned that cliché into reality Wednesday night in Game 3 of the Stanley Cup Final. Trailing the Detroit Red Wings 2-0 in the Stanley Cup Final, the Penguins couldn’t afford to lose.
And thanks to “Sid the Kid,” they didn’t. Crosby not only scored the Penguins’ first two goals of the game, but their first two of the entire series to lift the Penguins to a 3-2 win and put Pittsburgh right back into the series.
“I think it was desperation,” Crosby said. “I wanted to make sure personally I had a good game. I think we all believed that if we put our best game out there, we gave ourselves a good chance. But personally, you just want to make sure you're leading by example and doing your job out there. And that's all I was basically trying to do.
“I mean, it's not hard to get up for a game this big, especially in the Stanley Cup Final.”
Game 4 of the Stanley Cup Final is Saturday night (8 p.m. ET, NBC, CBC, RDS, NHL Radio).
Saying the Penguins were in a desperate situation coming into the game was understating things only mildly. They not only lost the first two games in Detroit, but had failed to score a goal. But in their most desperate hour, Crosby rose to the occasion, scoring in the first and second periods to not only give the Penguins a 2-0 lead, but some confidence and the ability to believe the Red Wings were not invincible.
“I thought he played well,” Penguins coach Michel Therrien said of Crosby’s efforts in Games 1 and 2. “I thought he played well the first two games. Sometimes the results are not always there. You can't judge players on goals and assists. As coaches, we pay attention on different things. I thought that his work ethic was there. He stuck to the plan. That's what you're looking for from your captain, show an example. And good players, when the challenge is there, they like to play those types of games.
“We approached it like a challenge,” Therrien said. “And there's no doubt that (you’re) looking for your best player to bring an A-game. And certainly Sid did that tonight.”
Now the Penguins have an aura of invincibility about themselves at home. Pittsburgh has won 17 consecutive games at Mellon Arena, including the final eight home contests of the regular season and all nine in the playoffs to date.
Penguins goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury, who has won his past 19 starts at Mellon Arena dating back to the regular season, was brilliant in the victory, stopping 32 of 34 shots. He kept the Penguins in the game both early on, when they were trying to get their legs, and late when the Red Wings put on determined pressure.
“I thought the guys did a great job in front of me,” Fleury said. “They blocked a lot of shots and getting rebounds to win. The ‘D’ stood, battled hard with those guys. They got some guys close to the crease, and I think they did a great job.
“Marc-Andre, he's one of the reasons why we're here,” Therrien said. “And he's one of the reasons why we won tonight. He makes some key saves. I like his composure. He (made) fabulous saves tonight when the game was tied, so I'm really pleased for him.
“He gave us a chance to win,” Therrien said. “This is what you're looking for from your goalie. Give your team the chance to win, and certainly he did that tonight.”
For the Red Wings, the loss was disappointing, but coach Mike Babcock wasn’t pressing any panic buttons.
“I think tonight we got off to a pretty good start on the road,” Babcock said. “I thought we were under control. Then I thought they had a pretty good push after a timeout, scored a goal. And I thought they controlled the next, I don't know, 20 minutes of the game. And then I thought we battled back pretty good. The third goal was a tough one for us to give up, just because it makes it hard to come back, but I thought we had a good push at the end.”
The Penguins’ series scoring drought ended at 17:25 of the first period when Crosby scored his fifth goal of the playoffs to give the Pens their first goal – and lead – of the series.
Crosby’s goal was a huge relief to the Pens and their white-clad fans, who had suffered through 137:25 of scoreless hockey until Crosby found the back of the net.
“It wasn't that the chances weren't there,” Crosby said of the drought. “It just finally went in for us. I mean, we would hit posts and didn't have bounces that came on our stick near the net. And finally (we) had one go in. And it felt good to get one in, to get the first one and get momentum and start off the game.”
A rare Detroit turnover set up the goal, as defenseman Brad Stuart’s hard pass in the defensive zone caught Henrik Zetterberg in the skates and caromed to Marian Hossa, who turned and broke in on Chris Osgood. Hossa’s initial shot was stopped by Stuart, but Crosby had broken to the net and slammed the rebound home to the delight of the delirious fans.
“Whether it was me or anybody else, we just wanted to get the first one,” Crosby said. “We wanted to get a goal. Find a way. Didn't matter who or when. But for sure, it would be nice to get the first one. I think that was the mindset going in. And it was nice to get it for sure. But whether it was me or anyone else, I wasn't really worried about that. I just wanted to make sure that we gained the momentum as early on.”
“They got to the puck a little quicker at times,” Babcock said. “They scored first, which helped them. I thought Crosby and Hossa were better ... More energy and controlled more plays. Now whether that be the matchup or whatever, I thought they did a pretty good job. You have to give them credit. They found a way to win a game.”
Johan Franzen was called for holding just 1:04 into the game, sending the Penguins on to the power play, where they picked up a shot by Ryan Malone. But the Wings began to assert themselves and the familiar problems of a lack of offense for the Pens resurfaced. Pittsburgh was held without a shot for an extended period before Crosby’s goal got things rolling. The Pens finished the first period with six shots and the Wings with nine.
Fleury was strong in the first. Midway through the period he blunted a drive from the slot by Pavel Datsyuk and smothered the rebound with Tomas Holmstrom hacking away in the crease.
Fleury made his best save with 8:47 left when Datsyuk made a nifty move to get free to the side of the net and then passed to a streaking Stuart who burst in from the point. Fleury got his right pad on the shot to keep the Wings off the board.
With defenseman Sergei Gonchar off for hooking Franzen at 12:07, Fleury made back-to-back saves on Dan Cleary and Mikael Samuelsson.
Crosby struck again at 2:34 of the second, scoring a power-play goal to make it 2-0 Pittsburgh.
With Niklas Kronwall off for hooking Malone, the Pens went to work on the power play and the goal involved four of the five Pittsburgh players on the ice. Gonchar got the puck into the Detroit zone where Malone’s drive deflected to Hossa, whose shot was blocked by Osgood, but the rebound came to Crosby at the right post and he pounded the rebound into the net.
“I got some good bounces,” Crosby said. “I went to the same spots I typically would go to. The puck ended up on my stick. As far as creating things, I think we did a better job creating more. I think that came from patience.
“They're a team that plays in your face, but sometimes you realize you have a little bit more time in certain plays,” he continued. “And just focusing on deciding when to hold onto it and when to dump it in. Probably just took a little time to get used to. I thought we did a better job managing the puck tonight.”
The second goal energized the Pens, who continued to mount some solid chances, forcing Osgood to make good saves on Gonchar on a couple of drives.
The Wings got back into the game because of Holmstrom’s ability to draw penalties and absorb pain. Pittsburgh’s Hal Gill was called for cross-checking Holmstrom at 8:54 and 40 seconds later Fleury made a great save on Jiri Hudler. Franzen jumped on the rebound, but the puck entered the net after it had been dislodged when Brooks Orpik knocked Hudler into the post.
Gill’s second cross-checking penalty of the period cost the Penguins when Franzen scored his 13th goal of the playoffs and the first in the Final. Skating with the extra attacker, Franzen took the puck from Nicklas Lidstrom and gained the Pittsburgh zone, making a nice move to get some open ice on Penguins defenseman Rob Scuderi. Franzen then drove to the net, froze the other defenseman, Ryan Whitney, in place and lifted the puck over Fleury from close in to cut Pittsburgh’s advantage to 2-1.
Adam Hall gave the Penguins some breathing room at 7:18 when he made a heady play behind the Detroit net, shooting the puck off the back of Osgood and into the net during a mad scramble in front. Max Talbot and Gary Roberts picked up assists on the goal that started a remarkable run of over six minutes of non-stop hockey that saw the Wings nearly tie the game on a shot by Datsyuk that Fleury made a great stop on.
“You know, this is the ultimate stage for a hockey player,” Hall said. “Since you were a little kid this is what you grew up watching every year on TV and you’re dreaming about scoring that goal to win the Stanley Cup. To be on this stage and have a game like this, it’s definitely up there.
“You don’t think about it,” Hall said of the game-winning goal. “You don’t have time to think. I just threw it off the back of (Osgood) just hoping to bank it off of him. I was right there. I saw it just kind of went wide, hit the side of the net and the puck bounced there. He was kind of far out of the net. He was trying to cut down the angle and he tried to poke check it. I tried to corral it, take a look and I saw he was out of position so I tried to bank it in.”
Samuelsson took the breathing room away at 13:37, when his rising shot from the right circle appeared to change direction off the stick of Orpik and knocked the water bottle off the top of the net to make it 3-2. Stuart and Valtteri Filppula picked up the assists.
Malkin was guilty of hooking Kronwall at 15:42, setting up some anxious moments for the Penguins as the Red Wings drove for the tying goal. The sellout crowd seemed to count down every second and then heaved a sigh of relief as Malkin jumped back on the ice.
As for Game 4, the Red Wings remain confident they can win and make the series 3-1.
“I don't feel that we were dominated or anything,” Babcock said. “But I thought they had some quality scoring chances. Like I said, probably from 15 minutes gone in the first to probably five minutes left in the second, I thought they really had some opportunities.”
Not surprisingly, Crosby pointed out that the Penguins have to have a better effort to prevent just that.
“It feels good,” Crosby said. “I mean, we definitely earned it. But at the same time, it's one. And you don't want to take anything away from it. We realize how hard it was and how tough it's going to get. So it feels good to come out of this game on the other side, for sure. But we realize it's only one.”