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Roberts, Pens dig deep

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Friday, May 30, 2008

Dirty Gary, huh• It's awesome. I love when the crowd goes, "Gaaary!" He's a legend in here. ... You look at him after a goal -- during the celebration -- you look in his eyes, and you're kind of scared, like, 'Oh my God, that guy's intense.' And it's great. -- Maxime Talbot

Desperation has to be the most overused word in hockey, but if you didn't see it in the Penguins' eyes Wednesday night -- especially in the maniacal glare of 42-year-old winger Gary Roberts -- you weren't watching closely enough.

The "A" on that guy's jersey stands for "angry."

We could sit here all day and talk about puck support, organized breakouts and clogging the neutral zone. We could discuss the finer points of systematic hockey.

But what does any of that have to do with a loose puck behind the net and four beating hearts bearing down on it?

In many ways, this game boils down to a series of small skirmishes all over the ice -- the kind the Penguins lost too often in Games 1 and 2.

Maybe that's why the coaching staff gathered the players for a little video session just before Game 3.

"Keeping pucks in, getting pucks out, we weren't doing enough of it," defenseman Ryan Whitney said.

So, the video session consisted of coach Michel Therrien highlighting some of those lost battles?

"Yeah, that's pretty much it," Whitney said, "without the expletives."

As well and as hard as they played, the Penguins will have to turn it up yet another notch for Game 4 on Saturday.

Ask people who know, and they'll tell you that winning a Stanley Cup can require a team to find a level it didn't even know it had.

"We can play better," defenseman Brooks Orpik said.

No doubt, the Penguins sold out to save their playoff lives the other night. Players stepped out of their comfort zones. That might have meant gifted offensive players putting their skills to use in the less glamorous areas of the rink -- like the corners -- or defenseman Sergei Gonchar playing one of the more physical games of his Penguins career.

Pure heart led to the winning goal. It began with winger Tyler Kennedy clearing the zone as he was flattened by a crushing hit. Talbot gained possession at center ice and dumped the puck into the corner, where Roberts unloaded on defenseman Andreas Lilja.

That created a free puck among four players -- Roberts, Lilja, Detroit winger Jiri Hudler and Talbot. No system was going to help anyone here. Talbot prevailed, which led to Adam Hall's goal.

Two other examples:

• On the Penguins' second goal, the puck squirted from the slot to the side boards during a power play. To retrieve it, Evgeni Malkin had to break into a sprint and take a hit from Kris Draper before tipping it back to Gonchar. Seconds later, Sidney Crosby scored. It seems to have sunk in with Malkin that even if he isn't working his offensive magic on a given night, he can have a huge impact by making plays like that. He was a horse all night.

• A critical shift occurred after Detroit cut the deficit to 2-1. Therrien reunited his big guns -- Crosby, Marian Hossa, Malkin -- and they kept the puck in Detroit's zone for 46 seconds, stealing back momentum.

Roberts sparked an energy swing in the second period when he raced behind the net and nearly hammered goalie Chris Osgood (who, incredibly, did not fall down). Jordan Staal, Jarkko Ruutu and Roberts then kept the puck in Detroit's zone for 34 seconds.

The most amazing statistic from the game was this: Roberts played only 8 minutes, 45 seconds.

"You'd think he played 20 with the impact he had," Whitney said.

Wait till you see the guy on two days' rest.

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