ALAN ROBINSON AP Sports Writer PITTSBURGH
Sidney Crosby is the Pittsburgh Penguins' leader. Their best player. The franchise figurehead. A player who brings out the best in those who surround him, even if the 20-yearold is half the age of some. On a night that effectively could have ended the Penguins' Stanley Cup run in every way except mathematically, Crosby showed another side to his teammates: Sidney Crosby, the loner. In the Penguins' dressing room before their absolutely must-win 3-2 victory over Detroit in Game 3 of the Stanley Cup finals on Wednesday night, Crosby was unusually pensive and reserved. He has never been a backslapping, cheerleader type who talks a big game, but this was a different, more contemplative Crosby. Maybe it was a sign of what's to come, as Crosby not only ended the Penguins' streak of nearly seven consecutive shutout periods with a goal late in the first period, he also scored their second goal early in the second period on a power play to make it 2-0. "I think it was desperation. I wanted to make sure personally I had a good game. You want to be quiet, but you have to have a sense of confidence in the room, too" Crosby said. "Personally, you just want to make sure you're leading by example and doing your job out there. And that's all I was basically trying to do." That, and save their season. "He definitely led the way," defenseman Brooks Orpik said of Crosby, the 2006-07 NHL MVP who hadn't scored in five games. "He's a quiet leader in terms of what he says in the locker room, but he's obviously a leader of this team." The two goals also gave the Penguins the confidence and, too, the hope they lacked after being outscored 7-0 in first two games dominated by Detroit. With the help of Adam Hall's goal off goalie Chris Osgood's back in the third period, the Penguins proved they not only can stand up to the Red Wings, they can beat them. "We needed this one, and I think we earned it," Crosby said. There was little sign of that in Detroit, where the Penguins are certain to return now that they have avoided being the third team to be swept by the Red Wings in the finals since 1997. "I don't see why we couldn't bring even more (passion) on Saturday," in Game 4, defenseman Ryan Whitney said. "Look at it, we're one game away from tying up the Stanley Cup finals, after a lot of (people) counted us out." Thank Crosby for that and goalie Marc-Andre Fleury, too. Fleury made 32 saves and was much better than he was in Detroit, despite goals by Johan Franzen and former Penguins player Mikael Samuelsson that each got Detroit within a goal of tying it. The Red Wings, for all the flaws they showed that weren't previously on display, weren't all that far away from making it a 3-0 series. They took nine of the first 10 shots, a carry-over from their domination in the first two games, and an early lead might have been all they needed to end a Penguins homeice winning streak that has reached 17 games. Maybe they pressed too much for that first goal, as coach Mike Babcock, swayed by two power plays in the first period, kept sending out his top line of Henrik Zetterberg, Pavel Datsyuk and Tomas Holmstrom. "I thought those guys tried to do too much," Babcock said. "I thought the coach played them too much." One person Babcock wouldn't blame was Osgood, who had been 6-0 with a 1. 18 goals-against average in Stanley Cup finals games. He made 21 saves, but couldn't match former Montreal goalie Bill Durnan's 7-0 record to begin his Cup finals career. "They played well at home. They're confident at home. They skated real well," said Osgood, who had gone 154 minutes, 58 seconds without allowing a goal until Crosby scored off Marian Hossa's rebound at 17:25 of the first period. "It's just unfortunate it didn't go our way." Babcock should be familiar with this scenario. In the 2003 finals, New Jersey outscored the Ducks 6-0 in the first two games. When a series that looked to be over shifted to Anaheim, the Babcockcoached Ducks won twice. The Devils finally won the finals, but they lasted the maximum seven games. For the Penguins, who have 17 players who are 30 or younger compared to 14 Red Wings who are 30 or over, they want as long a series as possible. And there's this: The Red Wings led Nashville 2-0 in the first round, only to be tied through four games. Dallas forced a Game 6 in the Western Conference finals after being down 3-0. "Even when we were down 3-0 in Detroit, down 4-0, you want to keep pounding them," Orpik said. "You look over there and you see they have a lot of older guys. They're talented guys, but they're getting up there (in age). You want to try to pound on them, especially if it's a long series." The Red Wings insist that doesn't have to happen. If they win Saturday, they will go home with a chance to clinch it Monday in Game 5 and avoid a return trip to Pittsburgh, where the Penguins haven't lost since Feb. 24 and Fleury is unbeaten in 19 games since Nov. 21. "We were hesitant at times, and not really playing the way we were capable of or the way we did in the first two games," Kirk Maltby said. "So it's a game behind us. We had a chance to win or tie it up late. We weren't able to. Now we move on to Game 4." So do the Penguins and with a chance to even the series, something that wasn't widely predicted following Game 2. "They're a confident team at home," Detroit's Kris Draper said. "They did what they had to do to win a hockey game, and now it's up to us to respond in Game 4."