PITTSBURGH -- The Pittsburgh Penguins lacked scoring and confidence while losing the first two games of the Stanley Cup finals in Detroit. With some calming words and a big goal, Sergei Gonchar supplied both with a performance that might have saved their season.
Gonchar's power-play goal midway through the third period and Marc-Andre Fleury's strong work in the net revived the Penguins on Tuesday night. The finals are far from over for Pittsburgh following a 4-2 victory against the Detroit Red Wings in Game 3.
Game 4, which could have been an elimination game for Pittsburgh, will be Thursday night. Either the defending champion Red Wings can take a stranglehold 3-1 advantage or the Penguins can make the finals a best-of-three after losing the first two in Detroit.
"This series is where it should be," Red Wings coach Mike Babcock said.
For the Penguins, that means it's not over.
Gonchar's slap shot from center point off Evgeni Malkin's pass sailed past Chris Osgood as Bill Guerin and Sidney Crosby screened the goalie, Pittsburgh's ninth consecutive shot to start the third after being outshot 26-11 in the first two. The Penguins were 2 for 3 with the man advantage, with defenseman Kris Letang scoring in the first.
"The [Gonchar] power play was an unbelievable job by a handful of guys out there, keeping the play alive and giving Gonch a chance," Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said.
The decisive power play was created by an interference call on Jonathan Ericsson, with Babcock saying, "At that point, they took over. They got the power play in the third and we didn't."
Fourth-line center Max Talbot scored twice, including an empty-netter, as the Penguins prevented the Red Wings from moving to within one victory of their fifth Stanley Cup since 1997.
Malkin assisted on the first three Penguins goals, giving him 33 points in 20 games, the most in the playoffs since Joe Sakic's 34 in 22 games for Stanley Cup champion Colorado in 1996.
"It's great to be back in this series," said Fleury, who made 27 saves while shaking off two unsteady games in Detroit in which he was twice beaten for goals by fourth-liner Justin Abdelkader.
It's also a repeat of last year, when the Penguins won 3-2 in Game 3 after losing the first two on the road. Detroit went on to win in six.
The way they played for much of Game 3, with Henrik Zetterberg and Johan Franzen scoring in the first to give them a 2-1 lead, it looked like the Red Wings were trying to win this one in three.
"I don't want to say this was a must-win game, but everybody knows we needed to win this game," Talbot said.
The Red Wings were so dominating at times the Penguins once had six men on the ice for nearly a half minute without it being detected. There were five-minute stretches of continuous up-and-down play, numerous scoring chances at both ends -- and, the way the Red Wings kept pressuring, plenty of tentativeness by towel-waving Penguins fans nervous they might see the Penguins' season effectively end.
"I thought we had the second period pretty much ours," Detroit's Brad Stuart said. "Then they came up and upped the ante a little bit in the first seven, eight minutes of the third. They got us on our heels a bit and we weren't able to recover."
And Gonchar turned out to be right.
One of the few Penguins players at the rink on a day off Monday, Gonchar constantly repeated that the Penguins did enough right during their twin 3-1 losses in Detroit to encourage them. He and Guerin also downplayed the fact 31 of the previous 32 teams to win the first two games at home went on to win the series.
"Gonch has that about him," Crosby said. "He's a calming influence. He's calm no matter the situation."
Gonchar feels fortunate just to be playing. He missed three-quarters of the season with a shoulder injury, and he missed two playoff games following a knee-to-knee hit by Washington's Alex Ovechkin during the second round.
"What a leader," Talbot said. "Me and Sid were talking about him before the game. He sits across from us in the room and you could see it in his eyes that he was ready. So relaxed, so poised."
"The urgency has to be there, but at the same time, you have to be smart about how you are playing," Gonchar said. "They're a good club. If you give them a chance, they're going to capitalize on it."
Crosby, the Penguins' 21-year-old captain, again didn't have a breakout game -- he has one assist in three games -- but, at least for one night, it didn't matter as the Penguins finally began getting production from their secondary scorers.
Zetterberg played another strong game, helping limit Crosby's chances despite not being matched as regularly against him as Pittsburgh had the final line change, but the Red Wings couldn't find the net after the frantic first period ended with a 2-all tie.
"I thought we played real desperate," Zetterberg said. "I think we played a good first and second period, created a lot of chances, couldn't get a puck in."
The second period was even faster than the first, although there were no goals. The pace was so fast, the fans who booed forward Marian Hossa whenever he was on the ice in the first stopped doing so. Hossa left Pittsburgh after last season to sign with Detroit.
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