The news of the Pittsburgh Penguins demise may have been grossly exaggerated.
Maxime Talbot scored twice while Sergei Gonchar's powerplay tally in the third period proved to be the winner as the Pens took Game 3 from the Detroit Red Wings by a 4-2 count.
While Talbot was thrilled with the win, he was equally excited about the play of his best friend on the team, Marc-Andre Fleury, who came up with 27 saves in the victory.
"I'm so happy for Fleury because in Game 1 and 2 he got criticized a little bit, but tonight I think he won the battle of the goaltenders. I have a lot of trust in that guy, he's amazing. If I had a choice to take any goaltender in the league, I would choose Fleury and he proved it tonight."
In addition to the stellar play of Fleury, the Penguins' made the most of their chances on the power play, scoring twice with the man advantage.
"When you get an opportunity on the power play you want to make the most of it," Sidney Crosby stated. "We did a great job of that tonight."
Red Wings' head coach Mike Babcock concurred with Crosby's acessment.
"It was a power-play game," said Babcock. "They got three and we got two. You know, that's the facts."
With the Penguins down 2-0 in the series and facing a must win contest, the 'Igloo' was rocking early with the Mellon Arena spectators clad all in white to support their team. The raucous crowd was whipped into a frenzy as former Penguins' great and current co-owner Mario Lemieux was on the ice to drop the ceremonial first puck.
Not getting as warm a reception was Wings' sniper Marian Hossa who the Penguins' faithful voiced their displeasure with every time he hit the ice. The Slovakian superstar was not the lone target of fans ire as NHL commissioner Gary Bettman was also in attendance, celebrating his 57th birthday.
Prior to the game the Wings learned that they would be without Hart trophy nominee Pavel Datsyuk for a sixth straight game with a foot injury. Centre Kris Draper was also scratched despite his proclamations prior to the game that he was ready to go.
It was a fast and furious pace to begin the game as the Penguins used that momentum to their advantage five minutes in as Evgeni Malkin found Maxime Talbot in the slot for a beautiful one timer that beat Chris Osgood cleanly. The goal was Talbot's fifth of the playoffs.
As they have so often before, the Red Wings replied immediately. Just a minute-and-a-half later Ville Leino attempted a wraparound on Marc-Andre Fleury in the Penguins net, however the puck came loose to Henrik Zetterberg in the slot who banged home his 10th of the post-season.
The Wings continued to pour on the pressure and it paid off. With Brooks Orpik in the box for interference, the potent Wings power play took advantage. Zetterberg found Johan Franzen with a cross-ice feed and the big Swede made no mistake, beating Fleury for his 12th of the post-season.
Instead of hanging their heads, the Pens replied with a man-advantage of their own. Defenceman Kris Letang spun and fired a no-look shot that beat Osgood five-hole to even things at two with Wings' defenceman Niklas Kronwall providing the screen. It was Letang's fourth of the playoffs with Evgeni Malkin collecting his second assist of the night.
While Malkin was enjoying a solid game, Sidney Crosby's offensive frustrations continued as he was held to a single shot in nearly nine minutes of ice time in the opening frame.
Despite Crosby's woes, the Penguins caught a huge break as they had six skaters on the ice for at least 20 seconds in the Wings' offensive zone late in the period, however neither Paul Devorski nor Dennis LaRue noticed the infraction.
An elated Talbot fessed up to the error but was extremely happy that it was not called.
"Bylsma called the line, and I didn't hear him well, so I thought I was supposed to go," Talbot told TSN's Darren Dreger following the game. "I'm the one who made the mistake. But we cycled really well with six players. We were there for about 20 seconds and we got some chances. Oh my god, it was great!"
While at the time Babcock could not have found the incident terribly funny, he did find the humour in it following the game.
"I mean, what do you want me to say?" Babcock said with a chuckle. "You know what I mean?"
The rapid pace continued to open play in the second stanza as a Ruslan Fedotenko turnover in the neutral zone led to a breakaway by Mikael Samuelsson. The Swedish winger, who was doubtful with the flu coming in, beat Fleury but not the post to keep the score level.
The teams continued to trade chances as the pace of play slowed down considerably. Fleury was the busier of the two netminders coming up with solid saves on Brad Stuart and Brett Lebda from long range.
After a clean period, the referees were finally forced to pull out their whistles with just under five minutes remaining as Miroslav Satan was called for holding on Darren Helm. With the Wings buzzing around his net, Fleury got some help from the crossbar as a 'knucklepuck' from the point by Brian Rafalski drew iron.
The Pens' netminders' good fortune continued as the Wings could not cash in of a flurry in the crease as both Hossa and Valtteri Filppula could not bury great chances. After the smoke cleared, the Red Wings had outshot the Penguins 14-4 in the period.
The young Penguins' 'keeper welcomed the extra work.
"I saw all the red jerseys in front of me," Fleury said. "It's always interesting when they're there, there's always little battles on trying to find the puck. So it's always a little bit, sometimes tough to fight it, but I don't mind it. I don't mind the action in front of the crease, and just trying to battle to make those saves."
NHL on TSN analyst Pierre McGuire had nothing but praise for Fleury following the game.
"This had to be the best game of the series for Marc-Andre Fleury," stated McGuire. "He wasn't very good in Game 1 and wasn't particularly good in Game 2 – especially on the Justin Abdelkader goal, but tonight he was special. When it's all said and done, Fleury plays his best game and that allows Pittsburgh to get back in the series - at least a little bit."
Penguins' head coach Dan Bylsma message between periods was to get pucks on the net as his young team came out flying to open the third frame.
"We didn't have a very good second period," Bylsma admitted on the podium following the contest. "They were very good in the second. We needed to calm down and get back to our game."
With the pressure on the Pens to come out and save their season the third line responded. Jordan Staal's blast provided a juicy rebound in front for Matt Cooke, but Osgood held his ground to come up with his biggest stop of the contest. While Osgood was sprawled in his crease Cooke appeared to make contact with a skate to Osgood's helmet. Undaunted, the three-time Stanley Cup champion shook it off to make six straight saves before the Red Wings replied with a shot of their own.
The continuous pressure finally got the best of the Red Wings as rookie blueliner Jonathan Ericsson was whistled for an interference penalty nine minutes into the frame.
Call this the TSN turning point as with some additional space on the ice, the Penguins powerplay took advantage as Gonchar's blast beat a screened Osgood for his third tally of the post-season. Malkin and Crosby collected assists on the goal, for Crosby it was his first point of the series. The 2006-07 Hart Trophy winner credited the veteran Gonchar for keeping a level head when the team needed him the most.
"That's his personality," Crosby said of Gonchar. "He's very calm all the time no matter what the situation is. Guys really feel that. You know, I think they realize that he's going to be ready every time he steps out there. He's a big, calming influence, and came up with a big there for us."
As TSN Insider Bob McKenzie pointed out following the game, Detroit's play when down a man might be their lone weakness.
"The Achilles heel, if you will, for the Red Wings for much of these playoffs have been the fact that they gave up a power-play goal virtually every game – 12 straight games until the Penguins came up empty in Game 1. Clearly, the power-play was the difference in this game."
With their confidence surging, the Pens continued to apply the heat to the Wings. Following a Fleury save on Jiri Hudler, the Pens broke out in a two-on-one the other way, however Chris Kunitz could not finish off a feed by Crosby.
The Penguins relentless forecheck pinned the Wings in their own zone as Talbot continued his superb game by first hitting the post then forcing Osgood into another solid save in tight.
By this time the Mellon Arena was rocking, with Brooks Orpik providing more fuel for their fire by drilling Hossa into the end boards. When play finally broke for a television timeout, the Igloo faithful gave their heroes a well earned round of applause.
With just under a minute remaining and Osgood on the bench in favour of the extra attacker, the Penguins iced it. Malkin sacrificed his body to block a shot and cleared the puck ahead to Talbot who, fittingly, threw the puck into the empty net for the second of the night. The Penguins bench exploded as they knew that they had saved their season.
After a tremendous game, Talbot was glad he had his coach's confidence to be on the ice with the game on the line.
"It's great to feel like you kind of built a little bit of confidence out of it," Talbot said. "You know what people expect from you, and you kind of want to be in those situations and you have a chance to be there, which is great. And I have the chance to play with great players."
Malkin's third assist on the night and 33rd of the post-season meant that the Russian sniper had become the first player in NHL history to earn a points on each of his club's first five goals of the Finals. He is also the first player to reach the 30 point plateau in the playoffs since Joe Sakic accomplished the feat in 1996 when he led the Avalanche to the Stanley Cup.
The Penguins will have a chance to even the series up at two games apiece on Thursday in Game 4.
"We always talk about it's always about the next shift, and that's the way we really have to look at it," stated Crosby. "So it's a battle out there and it's tight, but it's playoff hockey and it's where we want to be this time of the year."