- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 3, 2009

PITTSBURGH | The Detroit Red Wings once had the “Russian Five,” but it was Pittsburgh’s pair of stars from the Motherland who made this Stanley Cup Finals a series.

Evgeni Malkin had three assists and Sergei Gonchar netted the winning goal in Game 3 midway through the final period Tuesday night as the Pittsburgh Penguins defeated the Red Wings 4-2 at sold-out Mellon Arena to cut Detroit’s lead in the series to 2-1.

“We talked about after the second - we didn’t have a very good second period,” Pittsburgh coach Dan Bylsma said. “We needed to calm down and get back to our game. … We needed big performances from our special teams and our goaltender, and we certainly got them.”

Gonchar put the Penguins in front at 10:29 of the third. Pittsburgh spent more than 90 seconds with possession of the puck on the power play after Jonathan Ericsson interfered with Matt Cooke, but the Penguins struggled to find a shooting lane against the Red Wings’ penalty killers.

Finally, Gonchar was able to send a shot from the top of the offensive zone that Detroit goalie Chris Osgood missed in part because of a screen by Bill Guerin.

Detroit was ranked 14th out of 16 playoffs teams on the penalty kill at 71.4 percent coming into this game, and Pittsburgh converted two of three chances in this game.

“It was a power-play game - they got three [chances], and we got two,” Detroit coach Mike Babcock said. “Those are the facts.”

Malkin had a hand in Pittsburgh’s first five goals (one goal, four assists) in the series and now has 33 points in this postseason. That is the most points by any player in one postseason since Joe Sakic had 34 for Colorado when the Avalanche captured the Cup in 1996.

Pittsburgh goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury was able to rebound from a rough beginning to this game to make 27 saves in the victory. He played particularly well in the second period when the Red Wings had several great chances and outshot the Penguins 14-4. At the other end, Osgood did not play at the same level he did in the opening two games.

Talbot gave the Penguins a brief lead early in the first period. He found an opening in the middle of the Red Wings’ defense and one-timed a pass from Evgeni Malkin past Osgood at 4:48.

“I don’t want to say this was must-win, but I think everyone knew we had to win this game,” said Max Talbot, who had two goals, including the empty-netter that sealed it.

Henrik Zetterberg tied the contest less than two minutes later. Ville Leino tried to charge at the net with the puck from near the left corner, but Gonchar knocked it away from him at the last second. It went right to Zetterberg, and Fleury was caught out of position at 6:19.

Johan Franzen pushed the Red Wings in front at 11:33 with Detroit on the power play. Cooke got his stick on Zetterberg’s cross-ice pass, but Franzen was still able to put his shot into the far top corner as Fleury slid across his crease.

The Penguins answered with an extra-man marker of their own. Kris Letang whiffed inside the left circle on Malkin’s pass, but it didn’t go far after he retrieved the puck he ripped a shot through the legs of Osgood at 15:57.

Teams that have won the first two games of the Cup final at home are 31-1 in league history, but the Penguins will try to even this series here Thursday night in Game 4.

“In my opinion in the two games at home - one could have gone the other way,” Babcock said. “This series is where it should be. It is two teams playing hard, and they executed on the power play.”

Notes - The Red Wings were again without center Pavel Datsyuk, who missed his fifth straight game with a foot injury. Babcock did say the Hart Trophy finalist could be back Thursday for Game 4. Babcock said forward Kris Draper has been cleared to play but did not dress Tuesday night.

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