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Penguins can't rest on laurels entering Game 4

by John Kreiser

The Penguins hope to tie the series on Saturday when they host the Red Wings in Pittsburgh for Game 4 of the Stanley Cup Final.  Watch highlights from Game 3
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PITTSBURGH – It took three tries, but the Sidney Crosby-led Pittsburgh Penguins finally know what winning a game in the Stanley Cup Final feels like. They also know they won't feel nearly as good if they can't follow with another win in Game 4 on Saturday night (8 p.m. ET, NBC, CBC, RDS).

Crosby scored twice as the Penguins took a 2-0 lead and held on for a 3-2 win against the Detroit Red Wings in Game 3. That gives them a chance to get even and guarantee at least a return trip to Mellon Arena for a sixth game.

As happy as Crosby was to be on the winning side for the first time in a Cup Final game, he knows the Penguins still have a big task in front of them.

"It feels good; I mean, we definitely earned it," he said of the Game 3 victory, which came after the Penguins were blanked 4-0 and 3-0 at Detroit's Joe Louis Arena. "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. But we realize it's only one."

They'll be at home trying for two – and for 18, as in consecutive victories at Mellon Arena, where the Penguins are unbeaten since Feb. 24. The Pens will be hoping for the same kind of lift they got from the white-clad sellout crowd of 17,132 on Wednesday.

"It’s huge for the confidence, especially the way that we play at home, the way that the crowd supports our team," coach Michel Therrien said. "There was no panic with our club, because we like – this has been three months we haven't lost a game here and I like the way we play."

Crosby more than rose to the occasion in Game 3, scoring the Penguins' first goal of the series at 17:25 of the first period and adding a power-play goal 2:34 into the second. It was the first time in 22 career postseason games that he scored more than once.

"I thought he played well," Therrien said in the biggest understatement of the postgame media fest. "I thought he played well in the first two games. Sometimes the results just aren't there. You can't judge players on goals and assists."

But the Penguins won't win without their best player putting up goals and assists – and answering the challenge his team faced after two decisive losses.

"There's no doubt you're looking for your best player to bring his A-game, and certainly Sid did that," Therrien said.

Therrien's point was more accurate in discussing Evgeni Malkin, who was a complete non-factor during the two losses in Detroit. He went pointless for a third consecutive game, but was much more noticeable with three shots on goal, several good passes and a much greater commitment physically. He even blocked two shots.

"He played well," Therrien said. "He got some chances; got some quality shots. He worked both sides of the ice, both sides of the puck, really well. If Geno keeps playing like this, you know eventually he's going to be rewarded."

Don't be surprised if Therrien uses Crosby and Malkin with Marian Hossa on the same line a little more in Game 4. Perhaps the biggest shift in Game 3 came with about five minutes left in the opening period, when Therrien put the trio together. They produced the Penguins' best shift since the opening two minutes of the game, then generated the game's first goal their next time on the ice.

"In the first 10 minutes, I'd say we were on our heels," Therrien said. "We have a young team, so it's normal that they were a bit nervous.

"(We) tried to change momentum," he said of the decision to put his big guns together. "After the last 10 minutes of the first period, we really took over – and we were able to bring that momentum to the second period and get the lead."

The Penguins will also need the kind of goaltending they got from Marc-Andre Fleury, who struggled at times in Detroit but was superb in Game 3, stopping 32 shots – including 15 in the third period. He also got more help from his teammates, who blocked 26 shots, just one less than in the first two games combined.

"The guys did a great job in front of me," Fleury said. "They blocked a lot of shots and got to a lot of rebounds. (Detroit) got some guys close to the crease, and I thought (my defense) did a great job."

With two days off before Game 4, the Penguins can take a little longer to enjoy their first win in a Stanley Cup Final game since 1992.

"It definitely feels pretty good sitting in here, having a win in the Stanley Cup Final under our belts," said forward Adam Hall, whose bank shot off the back of goaltender Chris Osgood in the third period turned out to be the game-winner. "But it's still going to be a long series, so we'll enjoy this right now but start looking at the next game."

That the next game is guaranteed not to be the last one is good news for everyone – except the Red Wings. The NHL had seen teams take three-game leads in five of the previous six series during this year's Playoffs. No team since the 1975 New York Islanders has made up that kind of deficit to win a best-of-seven series.

Instead, the Penguins – written off by many after leaving Detroit with more losses than goals – are 60 minutes away from pulling even.

"Look at it. We're one game away from tying up the Stanley Cup Finals, after a lot of you guys counted us out," defenseman Ryan Whitney said.

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