It seemed for 27:21 of Game 3 of the Stanley Cup championship that no one blinked - and then the Pittsburgh Penguins did twice in 33 seconds to trail by two goals.
Dave Gagner and Bobby Smith scored within 33 seconds of the second period to send the North Stars on to a 3-1 victory that gave them a 2-1 series lead against the Penguins, who played without star Mario Lemieux."We had trouble putting the puck on the net in the first period," said Gagner, who missed or was stopped on several first-period opportunities. "I think I was pressing a little bit. I didn't have a lot of confidence going into it. We feel we have to win at home, and to get that goal was a big relief to everybody."
Gagner broke the scoreless spell with a backhander between the pads of Penguins goalie Tom Barrasso at 7:21 of the second period, his ninth goal of the playoffs electrifying the North Stars fans and energizing the North Stars.
The Penguins, who scratched Lemieux because of back spasms after pregame warmups, again were challenged to regain composure when Smith scored his eighth playoff goal. His snap shot from the right point put the North Stars up 2-0 at 7:54.
"That first goal in the game is so often an indicator of where the game will head, and the last two games it's been like that," said Minnesota Coach Bob Gainey, who acknowledged the importance of Lemieux's last-minute absence.
"You can't lose a player like Mario Lemieux and not feel it," Gainey said. "He is a big centerman, he controls the power play. I don't know how you measure something like that."
Pittsburgh went 0 for 4 on the power play without Lemieux but offset that by keeping Minnesota 0 for 5 on its man-advantage situations.