PITTSBURGH (AP) -Red Wings mainstay Kris Draper enjoyed Game 3 of the Stanley Cup finals even though Detroit fell short.
And why not? The Red Wings started strong Wednesday night against the Penguins in their first trip to Pittsburgh for a game that counted since October 2006 and nearly pulled this one out, too.
"Last night's game was unbelievable," Draper said Thursday, one day after the 3-2 loss that cut their series lead to 2-1. "There were a lot of hits and skating, some great plays, big saves. It had everything that we expected this series was going to have, and those are the games you love being a part of.
"We would have loved to have been on the other side, but that didn't happen."
When the series shifted to Pittsburgh after the Red Wings polished off the Penguins with two shutout wins at Joe Louis Arena, Hockeytown looked set for its fourth Stanley Cup title in 11 seasons.
Detroit did nothing to lessen its case that it is the best team in the NHL and the superior club in this series, but sometimes the other team just finds a way to win.
The Red Wings skated into a tough building, one in which the Penguins are a perfect 9-0 at home in the playoffs and haven't lost in 17 games, dating to late February. Game 4 is Saturday night in Pittsburgh.
"I don't think the rink was tilted or we weren't in the game," coach Mike Babcock said. "We gave up 24 shots and lost on the road. If you go through our whole year, when we lose on the road we give up 22 shots. That's life.
"We're a pretty confident group. We like our team. We like how we play. We thought they played better (Wednesday) night. We think they'll play better again. We think we have to be better."
That is a common theme for the high-flying Red Wings. It's hardly a surprise that they shoot for perfection and feel it is a realistic goal.
Detroit is loaded with veteran talent and equally impressive relative newcomers that combine to make a formidable team. The foundation includes captain Nicklas Lidstrom, Draper, Tomas Holmstrom, Kirk Maltby and Darren McCarty, who all won titles with the Red Wings in 1997, 1998 and 2002, and goalie Chris Osgood, a member of two of those teams.
Throw in top-line forwards Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk, and it's hard to see how they aren't the odds-on favorites to lift the Cup year in and year out.
"We've always done stuff together as a team since '94, '95," said Osgood, who left the Wings in 2001 only to return following the lockout in 2005. "We've had a tight-knit group of guys, regardless of who is here, who comes in and out. The core guys we've had here for so long invite guys into our group, and we have no cliques. We get along great, and that's why we play so well on the ice."
There is no denying that a 3-0 series lead would have made the Red Wings' 11th Stanley Cup title essentially a foregone conclusion, but at 2-1, Detroit could still be on the precipice of setting up a coronation at home in Game 5.
"It would have been a lot better position for us," Lidstrom said. "But we've seen situations like this before where you want to get that third win, you want to get a good push. For whatever reason, the other team comes out and plays real well. We had a pretty good game, too, but they ended up on top.
"We know that we've got to get back to playing the way we can and put this game behind us and take the good things with us."