RALEIGH, N.C. – The Pittsburgh Penguins are tough enough to handle when one of their young stars is playing his best. When both are clicking, they’re nearly unbeatable.
Evgeni Malkin had two goals and an assist, Sidney Crosby added a goal and an assist, and the Penguins pushed the Carolina Hurricanes to the brink of elimination by routing them 6-2 on Saturday night.
The Penguins scored twice in the final minute of the first period, then added two more goals in 40 seconds of the third to seal their fourth straight victory and take a 3-0 series lead in the Eastern Conference final.
Crosby and Malkin each scored for the second straight game, helping the Penguins improve to 3-0 in these playoffs when both score goals.
“Sid and Geno, they bring their level and they make everybody better,” right-winger Bill Guerin said. “Everyone’s talent level goes up. That’s what they do for us.”
The defending Eastern Conference champions can sweep the best-of-seven series Tuesday night and make a return trip to the Stanley Cup final, where last year they lost to Detroit in six games.
“I don’t think we think that far at any point, really,” Crosby said. “Obviously, we know we have an opportunity now, but I don’t think we’ve let ourselves get that far ahead. We’ve been focused on what we needed to do. We had a similar approach last year, but this year, maybe a little more experience helps.”
Ruslan Fedotenko, Craig Adams and Guerin each had a goal and an assist. Adams was credited with his goal when Carolina’s Jussi Jokinen won a draw but sent the puck down the ice into an empty net.
Matt Cullen and Sergei Samsonov scored for the Hurricanes, who haven’t lost a playoff series since Detroit beat them in the 2002 Cup final. In their only other post-season appearance since, they won the Cup in 2006.
Only twice has a team rallied from a 3-0 series deficit to win a series, and it hasn’t happened since the New York Islanders did it against Pittsburgh in 1975.
“Our challenge: We’ve got to find a way to beat them once,” Hurricanes coach Paul Maurice said. “And then we’ll try to revisit that.”
Malkin has 16 points in six games, including nine points and at least a goal in every game of this series. He followed up his first career NHL playoff hat trick by threatening to do it again with his sixth straight multipoint game. Crosby has 10 points in his last five.
“They’ve been probably the difference in this series, so far,” Jokinen said. “We just have to find ways to keep them off the scoresheet. And if you’re letting seven or six goals, you can’t win hockey games. That’s the bottom line.”
Crosby and Malkin helped the Penguins pepper Cam Ward for a third straight game. The Carolina goalie turned aside 34 shots but was overwhelmed again by a Pittsburgh team that held a 40-34 shots advantage and outshot the Hurricanes 73-53 in the first two games.
Marc-Andre Fleury made 32 saves for the Penguins.
Malkin and Crosby scored 30 seconds apart late in the first to turn a 1-1 tie into a two-goal Penguins lead. Crosby put Pittsburgh ahead to stay when he beat Joni Pitkanen to the net, took a pretty cross-ice pass from Guerin and tapped the puck past Ward with 42.2 seconds left.
Malkin made it 3-1 with 11.9 seconds remaining when he tracked the puck down in the low circle, skated up the goal line and stuffed in the puck for his second goal.
That came after he erased the Hurricanes’ early lead and made them pay for a fouled-up clearing attempt by Tim Gleason, using some nifty stickwork to skate in close on Ward and beat him with a wrist shot. The 22-year-old Russian’s two goals brought chants of “MVP” from the few hundred Penguins fans who infiltrated the RBC Center.
It was rocking early, with the desperate Hurricanes feeding off an amped-up crowd of Caniacs. Cullen cashed in on that early emotional burst, taking a pretty feed from Patrick Eaves and wristing it past Fleury’s stick.
“The way the building was the first 10 minutes, they get the lead and to be able to answer back and leave the first period 3-1 was certainly a lift for us,” Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said.
Notes: Pittsburgh D Sergei Gonchar and LW Chris Kunitz had two assists apiece. … The Hurricanes have led for a total of 13 minutes 45 seconds through three games. … Carolina LW Ryan Bayda was in the lineup two nights after he received a match penalty for high-sticking near the end of Game 2. He was fined US$2,500, but his automatic one-game suspension was rescinded by the NHL. … RW Tuomo Ruutu skated for the Hurricanes after leaving Game 1 early and missing Game 2 due to a lower body injury.