PITTSBURGH The Detroit Red Wings have been through this before.
They jump to big leads over teams that seem grossly overmatched, then find ways to let them back in the playoffs.
The Nashville Predators caught up to Detroit in the first round, and the Dallas Stars put a scare into the Presidents' Trophy winners after falling into an 0-3 hole in the Western Conference finals. Only Colorado proved easy pickings, swept by the Red Wings in the second round.
Now, the Pittsburgh Penguins are a win from squaring the Stanley Cup finals through four games. Are the Red Wings vulnerable, or do they have the Eastern Conference champs right where they want them?
"We didn't come into the series thinking we were going to win four straight," goalie Chris Osgood said. "We were hoping to, but to say we expected it to be a hard series would be right on."
Detroit was again dominant at times during its 3-2 road loss to the Penguins on Wednesday and was coming on strong before running out of time. There is no need to panic. The Red Wings are playing well and still lead 2-1 in the best-of-seven series.
"It's not over after you're up 2-0 or 2-1," defenseman Nicklas Lidstrom said Thursday, the first of two straight off days. "You have to have that mentality that you have to stick with it for four wins. It's not going to be easy. They're a very good team over there, and we knew that, too, coming in."
If the Wings can figure out a way Saturday night to beat the Penguins in Pittsburgh something no team has done in nine playoff games and 17 overall dating to Feb. 24 the Red Wings will head home with a chance to win the Cup in front of their octopus-loving fans at Joe Louis Arena.
After being blanked by a combined 7-0 score in the first two games of the series in Detroit, the Penguins returned to the comforts of home and managed to get three pucks past Osgood. Although that was enough to win, they hardly put up a convincing argument that they are suddenly the team to beat.
The Red Wings raced to a 9-1 edge in shots in the first period and closed with a 16-5 barrage in the third as they tried to erase Pittsburgh's lead that alternated between one and two goals.
Given a few more minutes, it seemed inevitable they would have gotten the game at least even in the most entertaining and competitive game of the series. The skill level on both sides was on full display, as was expected between these clubs.
Detroit outshot Pittsburgh 34-24 overall.
"We finished the game strong," Lidstrom said. "We had some chances to tie the game up. That's something you want to build on. You want to carry it into Game 4 and take the good things with you. One thing we can take with us is that third period where we played real hard."
Neither the Penguins nor the Red Wings practiced Thursday, with both clubs happy to escape the hockey spotlight for a day.
For the first time since the playoffs began, Penguins captain Sidney Crosby did not meet with the media. On Wednesday, Sid the Kid scored in each of the first periods and put a few dents into the Red Wings' perceived invincibility.
The Penguins know that Nashville erased a 2-0 deficit to Detroit in the first round with a pair of home wins, before falling in six, and that Dallas forced a Game 6 after dropping three straight.
There was a "white-out" in Pittsburgh on Wednesday, which seemed a whole lot better to the Penguins than a shutout or wipeout at the hands of the Red Wings.
"Anytime you have success like that, it's going to give everybody a huge boost mentally," said Adam Hall, whose third-period goal was the winner. "It just makes everything seem worth it, all the effort you put into it. We feel like we put the same effort into the first two games, but sometimes it's not just a matter of working hard, you've got to work smart, as well.
"It was just great for everybody looking around the room after the game to see everybody in great spirits."
Even Penguins coach Michel Therrien enjoyed a laugh Thursday. He was the last person to take the podium on a quiet day at the rink after causing a bit of a delay while tending to a family issue.
"Sorry, I got caught up," he said upon his arrival. "I had to go back to school and pick up my daughter."
That moment of levity was every bit an indication how much better a 2-1 deficit feels than the virtually insurmountable 3-0.
"We have the momentum on our side, and that's huge in the Stanley Cup final," forward Maxime Talbot said, "but sometimes it's good to just relax a little bit. You look back at what you've done, and you have a little bit more time to rest and to think about next game. Obviously, we are really excited. We want to get back out there, but it's not bad to have a little rest."