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Thursday, May 29, 2008

Game 3: Wait, That's The Best You've Got? -- Pittsburgh wins 3-2

Once again, the Pittsburgh Penguins put in a solid period-and-a-half of effort, only this time it resulted in them potting three goals and outlasting a furious and ridiculous rush from Detroit in the final 10 minutes of play to hang on for the victory.

I know lots of folks around the league are eager to trumpet the arrival of Sidney Crosby to the Cup Finals. Netting two goals will do that after all. Pittsburgh again followed Yours Truly's Recommendations for Victory and were able to make turnovers happen against the more "suspect" Detroit defensemen. Pressure on Brad Stuart in the first period got him to fire a pass off the skates of Henrik Zetterberg in their own end leading to Crosby's first goal. Poor defensive efforts out of Andreas Lilja and Brett Lebda helped lead to the other two Penguins goals and now the Penguins won't have to deal with being on the brink of elimination in Game 4.

What they will have to deal with is a defensive unit that doesn't feature Andreas Lilja, Red Wings fans' scapegoat for all problems defensively the last two seasons running. All signs are pointing towards Chris Chelios feeling healthy enough on his knee to get Lilja back on the bench. The Red Wings are a much more sound unit with Chelios out there and his steady play helps calm the nerves of a still somewhat green-acting Brett Lebda.

The Penguins also got the game they were looking for out of the Game 3 officials Dan O'Halloran and Paul Devorski, the latter of which stuns me as to how he's made it all the way to the Finals as he's been just awful all playoffs long. While he may not say it here, AOL FanHouse blogger and University of Minnesota-Duluth play-by-play man Bruce Ciskie has been highly critical of Devorski throughout the playoffs.

Don't be fooled, penalty calls didn't swing this game one way or the other. Both teams netted a power play goal a piece. Pittsburgh's power play looked better at home while Detroit's top unit still can't quite get it together. Then again, whenever they do put one home, an official takes the time to waive it off. The folks at Abel to Yzerman have grumbled a little bit about the seeming lack of production from Mr. Universe Nicklas Lidstrom, but he's had a couple of points taken from him by officials on a hellbent agenda.

Both coaches Mike Babcock and Michel Therrien made it clear that the NHL head office people came and talked to them about things they were absolutely going to crack down on. One of these things was clearly to turn the front of the goal mouth into the prison yard. Pittsburgh defenseman Hal Gill spent the better part of his shifts against the Red Wings top line burying the shaft of his stick into the back of Wings net clogger Tomas Holmstrom.

Gill earned two separate cross-checking calls which were called after Holmstrom finally got planted on his chest in front of the net while Gill fell on top of him to make sure he'd stay down. Gill as well as Brooks Orpik, who played the best game of his career last night, and Sergei Gonchar made it a habit of continually cross-checking Holmstrom as he camped out for position in front of the net.

The working over Holmstrom got from the Penguins defensemen as well as from Devorski and O'Halloran reminded of a story about this guy named Andy who got sent to prison wrongly and ran into this fella Boggs who had a group of friends called The Sisters. Perhaps you remember the story a little bit, they made it into a movie:

Paul Devorski (left) warns Tomas Holmstrom (right) what he's got coming to him the rest of the game.

As I said, the officiating didn't give too much or take away anything from either team last night, but the blind-eye taken towards what happened with Holmstrom all game long was, to say the least, shameful.

Holmstrom left the game in the third after being upended away from the play by Hal Gill. It's unknown as of now what is wrong with Holmstrom, one early report had it as whiplash (no, seriously) but given that he was taken out at the knee, his bad knee, I'd suspect the issue is there. His status for Game 4 is unknown as of this writing.

For Detroit and their fans, a loss usually amounts to heading for the bridge to jump or to the bar to commence sorrow-drowning. Not this time says Bill Houlihan at Abel To Yzerman.

Confidence is high from the Red Wings. They're convinced that the defense won't have that bad of a game again. They also feel that Mike Babcock will whisper (shout, actually) all the sweet nothings they need to hear to make sure it won't happen again.

With as poor of a game as Detroit played, and for how well Pittsburgh stuck to their plan, to have the difference in the game come down to one goal, and one unlucky post hit from Johan Franzen halfway through the third that would've tied the game at three, Pittsburgh has to find a way to stay as intense as they were and hope that Detroit lays a few more eggs. Detroit should also find a way to take those final ten minutes of play from the third period and be able to spread that out over 60 minutes - if they can do that, this series ends in a puff of smoke. Detroit has finally gotten tested here and they know they can't sit back and I don't expect them to get lazy now.

Game 4 will dictate the rest of this series. A Pittsburgh win and this thing can and almost assuredly will go seven.

If it's a Detroit win... The season ends on Monday night.

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