Penguins almost there

MIKE ZEISBERGER -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 11:28 AM ET

PHILADELPHIA -- It will take a pair of miracles to keep the 2008 Stanley Cup final from being The Rumble of The Rust Belt.

It is all but certain. The Pittsburgh Penguins versus the Detroit Red Wings. Steeltown versus Motown. Mario Lemieux, Pittsburgh owner, versus Steve Yzerman, Detroit front office executive.

Not buying this prognostication? Feel we are jumping the gun here?

The facts suggest otherwise.

Thanks to the Penguins convincing 4-1 victory over the Philadelphia Flyers last night in front of a depressed orange-clad throng at the Wachovia Center, both the Pens and the Red Wings hold commanding 3-0 leads in games in their respective conference finals.

Can the Flyers come back in the East? Will the Dallas Stars claw back to upset Detroit in the West.

History says it is unlikely.

Only twice in the history of the National Hockey League has a team rebounded from a three-game deficit in the playoffs to reel off four consecutive victories to win a series. The 1942 Maple Leafs were the first team to accomplish the feat, while the 1975 New York Islanders also managed to pull it off.

The tight-lipped Lemieux never would publicly admit he is looking toward the Wings.

When and if that matchup does transpire, he and Yzerman, the two men who led Canada to its first Olympic gold medal in 50 years during the 2002 Winter Games, might share a few friendly jabs with each other. But that will not happen before the Stanley Cup final combatants have officially been determined.

Still, as he made his way around the Penguins dressing room, shaking hands with his victorious players, the golf-crazed Lemieux wore the type of grin normally reserved for someone who had just drained a hole-in-one.

FUN TIMES

"That was fun," he said of the Penguins win.

Sidney Crosby was enjoying himself as much as Lemieux, his landlord and the man who signs his paycheques. Of course, he, like the Magnificent One, is not booking a spot in the final until the pesky Flyers have been disposed of.

"We've always taken it one at a time," Crosby said. "It's 3-0. That's where it ends.

"It's time to enjoy this, regroup and get (that fourth victory)."

The impressive Penguins last night ran their 2008 post-season record to 11-1 by flashing a smothering defence that even New Jersey Devils general manager Lou Lamoriello would love.

Through the first two periods the Pens limited the host Flyers to just eight shots on goal, turning back Philly's offensive efforts time after time.

Leading the defence-first philosophy was Crosby who, while managing a pair of assists, recorded just one shot on goal, preferring to concentrate on the responsibilities in his own zone.

When the rest of the Pens saw twin stars Crosby and Evgeni Malkin busting their butts in the defensive end, it was easy for them to follow suit and drink the Kool-Aid.

"He's our leader," Pittsburgh coach Michel Therrien said of Crosby, the game's first star.

"He stuck to the game plan as well as the other players. You can't ask more from a leader."

Marian Hossa, with two, Ryan Whitney and Ryan Malone scored for the Pens, who can earn their first berth in the final since 1992 with a victory in Game 4 here tomorrow.

"I felt kind of useless out there," Pens goalie Marc-Andre Fleury joked, referring to his lack of activity in the first 40 minutes.

"It was a little different, a little tough to get into the game. The guys did a great job in front of me."

The Flyers, to be fair, were without their top two defencemen. Kimmo Timonen was diagnosed with a blood clot in his leg prior to the series while Braydon Coburn sat out last night after needing more than 50 stitches to seal the gash in his face caused by a Hal Gill shot in Game 2.

Could they have used both blueliners? Of course.

On the other hand, even Timonen and Coburn probably could not prevent the seemingly inevitable matchup of destiny between the Pens and Wings.

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DOUBLE TROUBLE

In order to crank up the crowd, singer Lauren Hart did a duet with a video of the late Kate Smith in the singing of God Bless America prior to the opening faceoff.

Smith was the Flyers good luck charm when the Broad Street Bullies were winning back-to-back Stanley Cups in the mid-1970s.

PRIMEAU POWER

The Flyers faithful gave former captain Keith Primeau a standing ovation when he was shown in the building last night.

Primeau was honoured for his dramatic overtime goal that gave the Flyers a 2-1 victory over the Pittsburgh Penguins back on May 5, 2000, in what was the third longest game in NHL history.

Primeau's historic marker came at 12:01 of the fifth overtime period.

GARY'S GREEN

After setting up the winning goal in Game 2 for the Pittsburgh Penguins, Gary Roberts did not play in Game 3 last night.

"He came to me this morning and said he was sick," Pens coach Michel Therrien said. Adam Hall replaced Roberts in the Pittsburgh lineup.

POINT-GETTERS

Pittsburgh G A P

Marian Hossa 2 0 2

Sidney Crosby 0 2 2

Ray Whitney 1 0 1

Ryan Malone 1 0 1

Sergei Gonchar 0 1 1

Petr Sykora 0 1 1

Evgeny Malkin 0 1 1

Hal Gill 0 1 1

Philadelphia

R.J. Umberger 1 0 1

Vaclav Prospal 0 1 1

Daniel Briere 0 1 1

NEXT UP

Pittsburgh Penguins at Philadelphia Flyers,

Game 4, Eastern Conference final. Tomorrow, 7:30 p.m., CBC


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