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Prisuta: From here on, it's serious

| Wednesday, June 3, 2009

On a night when Mario Lemieux dropped the ceremonial first puck, it was most appropriate that Sergei Gonchar fired the last one that mattered.

Gonchar, from Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby on the power play at 10:29 of the third period.

Tie broken.

Game on.

To that point, the Penguins were hanging on against the mighty Red Wings in Game 3 of the Stanley Cup Final.

They'd survived a shaky second period but remained a bounce, a break or a mistake away from a three-games-to-none hole.

You don't look for secondary scoring at such times. You look for your stars to shine, or else.

The Pens' stars delivered as advertised and as they had to in what became a 4-2 victory that sliced the Red Wings' series lead in half.

It'll be that way the rest of the way for the most part, for the Red Wings as well as the Penguins.

The Justin Abdelkader saga was heartwarming. A Michigan kid trained at Michigan State scoring goals and having the time of his life in his home state in the Stanley Cup Final.

And grinder Max Talbot's two-goal night, capped with a blast into an empty net, earned him first star honors in Game 3.

But now that the series has gotten serious, it's the headliners who will ultimately decide it.

Gonchar, Malkin, Crosby and Marc-Andre Fleury.

Henrik Zetterberg, Marian Hossa, Nicklas Lidstrom and perhaps even Pavel Datsyuk.

To name a few.

Game 3 opened with Pens head coach Dan Bylsma starting the Jordan Staal line against Zetterberg, but Wings head coach Mike Babcock soon let it be known he would be having none of that.

Babcock didn't have the last change, but he had Zetterberg hoping over the boards as soon as possible whenever Crosby did.

Home or road, it seems, we're looking at Crosby against Zetterberg and defensemen Lidstrom and Brian Rafalski.

Zetterberg and John Franzen, meanwhile, will apparently have to contend with Gonchar and Brooks Orpik as well as Crosby now that Bylsma is seemingly getting Gonchar on the ice with Crosby whenever possible.

That leaves blueline bruisers Niklas Kronwall and Brad Stuart for Malkin, as had been the case in Detroit.

Does it get any better than that?

The challenge is equally grueling from either side, and will apparently come down to which team hits the goalpost at the wrong time and who gets the power-play opportunity at the critical juncture on a nightly basis until someone skates away with the Cup.

The Pens are still competing to become that team because Malkin came up with three more assists and Crosby his first point of the series in what for the Penguins was a had-to-have-it Game 3.

Zetterberg had a goal and an assist, but he was also on the ice for Gonchar's game-winning goal.

For a night, at least, the matchup may have extracted a price.

"I think one advantage we had (Tuesday night) because they were trying to get Zetterberg out there so much, there were times when he got out there tired," Bylsma said.

By the time this is over both sides will be exhausted.

The stars that can fight through the monumental challenges confronting them will have just enough left to celebrate.

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