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Motoring closer

- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 1, 2008

PITTSBURGH - It wasn't a dominant performance like the first two games of this series, but the Detroit Red Wings picked up the win they needed in this building - and now they're on the verge of collecting hockey's ultimate prize.

Jiri Hudler scored early in the third period last night as the Red Wings beat the Pittsburgh Penguins 2-1 in front of a standing room-only crowd at Mellon Arena, taking a 3-1 lead in the Stanley Cup Finals.

"It never gets old," Detroit captain Nicklas Lidstrom said. "You're excited to be in a position like this. This is what you play for all year long."

The win snapped Pittsburgh's 17-game home winning streak and pushed the Penguins to the brink of elimination. Detroit can wrap up the series and capture the Cup for the fourth time in 12 years with a win in Game 5 tomorrow night at Joe Louis Arena.

Hudler gave the Red Wings the lead 2:26 into the final period. After the Penguins failed to get the puck out despite multiple chances, the puck came to Hudler, who was all alone to the left of Pittsburgh goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury. His backhanded attempt hit Fleury in the shoulder and fluttered into the net.

The Red Wings were able to survive a lengthy 5-on-3 after taking the lead. Red Wings defenseman Andreas Lilja interfered with Sidney Crosby on a dump-in to give the Penguins 1:27 with the two-man advantage, but Detroit goaltender Chris Osgood rarely was challenged in that span.

"It is tough to explain," Pittsburgh coach Michel Therrien said. "There is no doubt we needed to get that goal. We didn't execute well, and that was a good chance to tie the game up right there."

Added Red Wings coach Mike Babcock: "In those situations, I think the pressure of the playoffs and the situation helps the penalty killing. If it's November, that is tic-tac-toe and it is in the back of the net so fast."

Pittsburgh's offense continued to struggle after a brief respite in Game 3. The Penguins have scored only four times in four games - and none have come from Evgeni Malkin, Petr Sykora, Ryan Malone or Jordan Staal, who combined for 26 goals in the first three series.

The Penguins were able to score first for the second straight game. Forty seconds after Detroit's Dallas Drake went to the penalty box for roughing, Marian Hossa scored his 10th of the postseason. Crosby skated the puck into the zone and spun at the left point for a pass to Sergei Gonchar at the other point.

Hossa collected the rebound from Gonchar's blast to the left of Osgood and was able to sneak it inside the right post and behind the netminder at 2:51. After being acquired at the trade deadline from Atlanta with Pascal Dupuis for Colby Armstrong, Erik Christensen, prospect Angelo Esposito and a first-round pick, Hossa now leads the Penguins in goals this postseason.

Detroit had the next power-play opportunity and was able to take advantage. Lidstrom's shot from the left point hit a Penguins penalty killer just before it sailed past Fleury.

It was technically not a power-play goal because Dupuis exited the box two seconds before Lidstrom's shot went in, but he hadn't joined the play by the time the puck went into the net.

Pittsburgh actually outshot the Red Wings 8-7 in the second period - quite the rarity in this series. The Penguins also had the better chances. Crosby chipped a loose puck over the net with Osgood down, and all three members of his line (Crosby, Hossa and Dupuis) had a shot on net from in close on one rush, but the Detroit netminder was up to the task.

"We've got to win one - we've got to win one to get back here," Crosby said. "We'll battle as hard as we can in Detroit and see what happens."

- Rugged Red Wings forward Tomas Holmstrom did not dress for the game. Holmstrom, who normally skates on the Red Wings' top line and is a key component of the offense because of his ability to cause trouble in front of the net, was injured late in Game 3 after a hit by Penguins defenseman Hal Gill.