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Pens alive and well

Gonchar’s goal proves to be critical

Pittsburgh Penguins players Evgeni Malkin (left), Ruslan Fedotenko (second from left) Maxime Talbot (second from right) and Hal Gill (2) celebrate after Talbot scored against the Detroit Red Wings Tuesday.

AP PHOTO

Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman Kris Letang celebrates after scoring a goal against the Detroit Red Wings in the first period of Game 3 of the Stanley Cup finals in Pittsburgh Tuesday.

AP PHOTO

PITTSBURGH — Sergei Gonchar said it once, then repeated it again a few seconds later as he tried pumping some confidence into some discouraged teammates: It’s not over.

Thanks to Gonchar’s power-play goal midway through the third period that revived the Penguins after the Detroit Red Wings pressed for lead, the Stanley Cup finals are far from over for Pittsburgh following a 4-2 victory in Game 3 on Tuesday night.

Game 4, which could have been an elimination game for Pittsburgh, will be Thursday night. Either the defending champion Red Wings can take a stranglehold 3-1 advantage or the Penguins can make the finals a best-of-three after losing the first two in Detroit.

Gonchar’s slap shot from center point off Evgeni Malkin’s pass sailed past Chris Osgood as Bill Guerin and Sidney Crosby screened the goalie.

“The power play was an unbelievable job by a handful of guys out there, keeping the play alive and giving Gonch a chance,” Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said.

The Penguins prevented the Red Wings from moving to within one victory of their fifth Stanley Cup since 1997.

Malkin assisted on the first three Penguins goals, giving him 33 points in 20 games, the most in the playoffs since Joe Sakic’s 34 in 22 games for Stanley Cup champion Colorado in 1996.

Gonchar and first-period scores by Max Talbot and Kris Letang gave the Penguins hope again, just as they did by winning Game 3 by 3-2 on a pair of Crosby goals in last year’s finals. The Red Wings went on to win that one in six.

Talbot added an empty-net score in the final minute.

The way they played for much of Game 3, it looked like Detroit was trying to win this one in three.

They outshot the Penguins 26-11 following a furious first two periods that featured five-minute stretches of continuous up-and-down play, numerous scoring chances at both ends — and, the way the Red Wings kept pressuring, plenty of tentativeness by towel-waving Penguins fans nervous they might see the Penguins’ season effectively end.

“We talked after the second, we didn’t have a very good second period. We needed to calm down and get back to our game,” Bylsma said.

They did and Gonchar turned out to be right.

One of the few Penguins players at the rink on a day off Monday, he constantly repeated that the Penguins did enough right during their twin 3-1 losses in Detroit to encourage them. Guerin also downplayed the fact 31 of the previous 32 teams to win the first two games at home went on to win the series, saying that meant nothing in these finals.

In the series’ first wide-open period, the Penguins finally began getting production from their secondary scorers as fourth-line center Talbot and Letang scored, but Detroit’s Henrik Zetterberg and Johan Franzen scored for a 2-all tie after the first.

The Penguins were hoping to open up the play more at home before a sellout crowd decked out in white shirts, and they did that. But in creating more end-to-end play, Pittsburgh also made mistakes that led to goals. Goalie Marc-Andre Fleury made up for many of them, stopping 27 shots and allowing no soft goals of the first two games.

Crosby, shut down the first two games and limited to a single assist in three games, left his man to go behind the net shortly after Talbot put a backhander past Chris Osgood. That allowed a wide-open Zetterberg to convert from the right circle at 6:19 for a goal created by Ville Leino driving to the net.

About five minutes later, Brooks Orpik’s interference penalty on Zetterberg led to Franzen’s 12th goal, off a risky cross-ice pass by — yes, him again — Zetterberg as Detroit converted for the 11th time in 34 opportunities on road power plays.

Zetterberg played another strong game, helping limit Crosby’s chances despite not being matched as regularly against him as Pittsburgh had the final line change.

Letang, coming off a rough Game 2 in Detroit, answered at 15:57 on a power play set up by the Penguins’ own cross-crease pass by Malkin.

The second period was even faster than the first, with one five-minute stretch of continuous play and a 14-4 edge in shots by Detroit, but no goals. The pace was so fast, the fans who booed forward Marian Hossa whenever he was on the ice in the first stopped doing so. Hossa left Pittsburgh after last season to sign with Detroit.

Notes: Penguins co-owner Mario Lemieux dropped the ceremonial first puck, a chore performed by Gordie Howe and Ted Lindsay before Game 1 in Detroit. ... Steelers coach Mike Tomlin was in the crowd, wearing a Sidney Crosby jersey, and numerous players including James Farrior and Hines Ward attended. ... Pittsburgh took four of the first five shots, but Detroit had 25 of the next 32.

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