The Penguins were tied up going into the final period after surviving a dreadful second period.
They were near facing playoff death.
A Red Wings win would have killed any realistic hope of the Penguins hoisting the Stanley Cup in 2009, but they stepped up their game in the third period, generating several good scoring chances before converting on a superb power play shift to steal Game Three.
Through the first two games of the Stanley Cup playoffs, the Penguins were the team forcing much of the action and getting the better scoring chances.
They promptly fell into a two-game hole.
For much of Game Three, the Red Wings looked like the superior team, generating plenty of offense while bottling up the Penguins. They were rewarded for their efforts with their first loss of the series.
Such is the nature of playoff hockey.
It can be a game of inches, especially when two outstanding teams are trading scoring chances. Sniper shots careen off the posts while much more harmless looking attempts to just put the puck on net hit pay dirt.
In the first two games, all of the breaks seemed to favor the Red Wings.
Whether it was a missed call that led to a goal, a lazy long distance shot that beat Fleury, or a flurry of shots bouncing off the goalpost, the Penguins could not buy a break.
In Game Three...that changed.
The calls and the bounces swung the Penguins' way. They got away with having six men on the ice for more than 20 seconds in the second period, which helped even out the missed call on Marian Hossa in Game Two that allowed a key goal.
The referees are not calling a tight series.
That didn't change from the first two games. There were plenty of opportunities to call penalties on both sides that were either missed or ignored.
The most notable change in Game Three was that Marc-Andre Fleury was not significantly outplayed by Chris Osgood. Not only did he stand tall against plenty of prime scoring chances, he also did a nice job handling the puck.
Osgood, for his part, was not bad.
He made plenty of great saves while allowing a couple of very stoppable goals. The star of the first two games was a mere mortal in Game Three.
I thought the Penguins would have a significant advantage in Pittsburgh since they would be able to better influence the matchups, but the Red Wings stuck to their guns and did all in their power to keep their defensive aces on the ice whenever Sidney Crosby jumped over the boards.
Their strategy is clearly to prevent Crosby from beating them, and they are doing a great job at it.
Crosby will not see much free ice in this series with Henrik Zetterburg and Nikolas Lidstrom hounding him wherever he goes.
He did get an assist on the power play goal and generated some good scoring chances, but his primary impact of this game was forcing the Red Wings to lock down their top players in an effort to keep him bottled up.
Because of this strategy, it is more important than ever that the Penguins get solid production up and down the roster.
That is what the Penguins got in Game Three and what they’ll need throughout the rest of the series.
This series is starting to look a lot like the Penguins-Capitals series, at least in the way it is unfolding. In that series, the Penguins looked plenty good in the first two games and yet found themselves staring out of a pit.
They captured Game Three to start their surge despite not looking as sharp in that game.
As with that series, both teams are holding serve at home and the series advantage will likely go to the first team to break that trend. The first two games of this series bore no resemblance to the two games that opened the Stanley Cup finals in 2008, when the Penguins were dominated in every facet of the game.
I wondered if they would ever touch the puck, let alone score a goal.
This year, both teams have played great through all three games.
Can the Penguins turn this around as they did against the Capitals?
Absolutely. But it will be harder—the Red Wings are a more complete team than the Capitals.
They have the defensive aces to at least limit the damage caused by the Penguins’ superstars. The Capitals were lacking in that department.
But the Penguins have a much better chance of getting back into this series than in 2008 when they were outplayed in all six games.
The signature moment of this game was the third Penguins goal.
The Penguins held the puck in the Detroit zone for 1:23, wearing out the Red Wing defenders while treating the puck like a prized possession. The unit played with a fierce determination, attacking with the fury that came with the recognition that the team was running out of chances.
They finally cashed in when Sergei Gonchar ripped a shot that whizzed by Osgood.
It is that kind of determination and effort that they will need in Game Four in order to send this series back to Detroit, knotted at two games each.