Winning cures everything, but it shouldn't blind a team either.
The Pittsburgh Penguins
insist they're seeing clearly today because even though they're confident that the momentum of the Stanley Cup Final in now tilted in their direction following a 3-2 win in Game 3, they know they were far from perfect.
Sure, perfection is hard to come by, but if it weren't for a 20-minute stretch bridging the first and second periods of Game 3 the Penguins could have spent Thursday answering questions about their ultimate demise instead of turning the series around.
"I think I heard someone today say that we played a near perfect game, and I can count numerous times where we gave up a lot of odd man rushes last night," Penguins defenseman Brooks Orpik
said. "We were definitely better than we were in the first couple of games, but it was nowhere near a perfect game."
The important thing for the Penguins is they played with a lead Wednesday night, and they saw when that happens the Red Wings can be vulnerable, too. The Penguins are now 8-0 in the playoffs when leading after the first period and 10-0 when leading after the second.
"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," Penguins defenseman Ryan Whitney
said. "You've got to open up and take more chances when you're down, and obviously that was the case for them.
"The first goal makes the game, seems like. So we wanted to try to get that and force them to go on offense a little bit."
The Red Wings obliged, but as Penguins forward Maxime Talbot
said, "we held on." He's darn right because Detroit out-shot Pittsburgh 16-5 in the third period and was buzzing after Mikael Samuelsson
made it a one-goal game with 6:23 to play.
Two minutes later, Detroit went on a power play, but the Penguins had a great kill in allowing only one shot on goal, albeit a good one on a redirect from Valteri Filppula.
"By no means do I think we had a bad third period," Whitney said. "They were shooting the puck a little more and they had some power play chances, but we held them off. It was good. There was no panic on our part when they made it 3-2."
If anything, that's a sign of a young team growing up in the Stanley Cup Final, but it shouldn't come as a surprise either. The Penguins never panicked in the first three rounds when it appeared the ice was severely tilted in the other direction.
The Rangers had a 3-0 lead in Game 1 of Eastern Conference Semifinal, but the Penguins came back to win, 5-4. The Rangers and Philadelphia Flyers
each forced a Game 5 with dominant performances in Game 4, but the Penguins stayed calm and clinched the series by winning the following game.
"I thought we were playing really well when we got the lead 3-1, and after that they really opened up the game and they were playing a high-risk game," Penguins coach Michel Therrien
said. "But we're comfortable when we play with the lead. Looking at the record through the course of the season, through the playoffs, when we've got the lead we've got a pretty good record."
But it wasn't until Therrien decided to put Sidney Crosby
, Evgeni Malkin
and Marian Hossa
together on a line coming out of a TV timeout with 5:35 to play in the first period that the Penguins forced the Red Wings into some adverse conditions.
Up until then they were being out shot in the game, 9-1, but the Penguins closed the period with five consecutive shots and entered the first intermission leading 1-0 and with 1:19 remaining on a Brian Rafalski
They kept the pressure up for the next 15 or so minutes and controlled a lot of the play. They scored another goal and held an 8-6 shot advantage in the second until Johan Franzen
danced his way around Rob Scuderi
and made it 2-1 with 5:12 to play.
"Fifteen minutes into the game we're outshooting them, 9-1, but from the 15-minute mark until when Franzen scores they get (13) of their 24 shots in the game," Detroit coach Mike Babcock said. "They were quicker than us. Those things happen. They scored a goal. They got momentum."
After Pittsburgh went up 3-1 on Adam Hall
's goal off of goalie Chris Osgood
's rear end the Red Wings grabbed all the momentum by opening up their game. They took a lot of risks and got rewarded on Samuelsson's goal.
At that point, just as they were in the first 135 minutes of the series, the Red Wings were clearly the better team on the ice. Except, this time they were also the desperate team.
"Confidence, it's a big part," Therrien said. "That was a must-win for us. It was a huge challenge. The next game, that's going to be another huge challenge for us as well. We're in the same position like we were (Wednesday), but in the meantime, that team, when they get confidence, they could accomplish a lot of big things.
"This is what we've proved so far. They proved that to themselves, too."
With further proof the series could wind up dead even late Saturday night.
Contact Dan Rosen at email@example.com.