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THN.com Playoff Blog: Eastern promising for Pens; Preds take a bite out of Wings

Martin Erat celebrates after scoring an empty-net goal along with David Legwand. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

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Martin Erat celebrates after scoring an empty-net goal along with David Legwand. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

The stars are aligning perfectly for the Pittsburgh Penguins. Their secondary players are, too.

The Pens weathered a remarkable return to action by Ottawa captain Daniel Alfredsson to put the Sens on their playoff deathbed, winning Game 3 by a 4-1 score.

Sure the leading men are carrying the load for the Pens, but they're getting terrific play from their supporting cast. Maxime Talbot scored a pretty goal in the second period to tie the game, while Jordan Staal put the team up 3-1 in the third. Pascal Dupuis, Rob Scuderi, Tyler Kennedy and Jarkko Ruutu also dotted the scoresheet.

Evgeni Malkin, who looked like the latest version of "the NHL's new best player" in Games 1 and 2, was held pointless and it didn't matter. The balanced attack is crucial for Pittsburgh or any team intent on making a Stanley Cup charge.

The icing on the cake for the Penguins is their primary competition in the East seems poised for a longer, more intense series in the first round. Whoever emerges from the Canadiens-Bruins, Rangers-Devils and Capitals-Flyers figures to be more battle-fatigued, an important factor every playoff year. The additional rest should provide Pittsburgh with all the incentive it needs to maintain its focus and kill off Ottawa in four.

It appeared for the longest time that Detroit would be in the exact same position in the West – until Nashville's Ryan Suter and Jason Arnott struck nine seconds apart with fewer than four minutes remaining in the third period.

The best news for the Preds was the sudden re-appearance of Jason Arnott. The captain, who'd been so strong for the club all season, had been neutralized until scoring the winner in Game 3. If he can continue to make an impact, Nashville could make the series interesting.

We're not counting on it, though. Detroit controlled the pace for most of this game and has the experience and wherewithal to put the stunning collapse behind them.

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We're not sure how badly injured Daniel Alfredsson still is, but it's tough not to admire him for his return to action in Game 3 (unless, of course, you're a fan of the Toronto Maple Leafs). The Ottawa captain is the embodiment of an MVP - his presence elevates those around him. That was the case for Ottawa until they inexplicably ran out of gas after taking a 1-0 lead in the second.

David Legwand's insertion into the Preds' lineup, following an injury layoff, was noteworthy. While he's not a leader of Alfredsson's stature, he still has skill and speed that that can make a difference. It did in the second period when he tied the game 2-2.

Like most, I have a very high level of respect and appreciation for Sidney Crosby, his talent and aura. That said, they should develop a new stat for him: LTOI - literal time on ice. The Kid seems to spend an inordinate amount of time falling down onto the playing surface.

THN.com's Playoff Blogs, featuring analysis and opinion on the action from the night before, with insight on what happened and what it all means going forward, will appear daily throughout the NHL playoffs. Read more entries HERE.

Jason Kay is the editor of The Hockey News and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog appears every weekend.

For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, Subscribe to The Hockey News magazine.

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