RALEIGH, N.C. – Sidney Crosby and the Pittsburgh Penguins are headed back to the Stanley Cup finals.
Max Talbot had a goal and two assists to help the Penguins beat the Carolina Hurricanes 4-1 on Tuesday night and finish off a sweep in the Eastern Conference finals. Pittsburgh lost to Detroit last year in a six-game final series.
Ruslan Fedotenko and Bill Guerin also scored, and Craig Adams added an empty-netter. Crosby had two assists to extend his point streak to six games, and Marc-Andre Fleury stopped the final 30 shots he faced in shutting down Carolina during the final 58 minutes.
The Penguins outscored the Hurricanes 20-9 in the series, netted at least three goals in each game, and trailed for a total of 20 minutes, 30 seconds in advancing to the Cup finals for the fourth time.
If the Stanley Cup champion Red Wings beat Chicago in the West finals, it will set up the first title rematch since the Edmonton Oilers and the New York Islanders met in 1983 and 1984.
Pittsburgh is the first team since the 2000-01 New Jersey Devils to get to the finals in consecutive years. The Red Wings, who lead Chicago 3-1 in the West finals, could join them as soon as Wednesday night.
The Penguins are the first runner-up to return to the finals since Edmonton in 1983 and 84, and that experience could help this time.
“Just knowing what to expect, hopefully there’ll not be too much surprises,” captain Crosby said. “We talk about experience all the time, but it is hard to learn.”
Last year, the Penguins stuck to superstitious tradition and didn’t touch the Eastern Conference championship trophy. That led to a loss, so this time Crosby picked it up and skated away with it.
“We didn’t touch it last year and things did not go the way we wanted to, so we switched it up,” Crosby said. “We know what we want.”
Dan Bylsma, who took over for fired coach Michel Therrien in February when the Penguins were in danger of missing the playoffs completely, will be making his first trip to the finals.
“He has been great for us, brought a great attitude, turned our game around and brought an uptempo game and we went after teams more,” Crosby said. “He is new to this as much as we are and we’re doing it all together.”
Eric Staal scored for the first time in the series for the Hurricanes, who lost for the first time in these playoffs when their franchise player notched a goal.
Cam Ward made 21 saves but lost a playoff series for the first time in his NHL career. He had been 5-0 in elimination games for the Hurricanes, who were on the losing end of the handshake line for the first time since 2002, when they lost to the Red Wings in the Cup finals. In their only other playoff appearance in that span, they won the Cup in 2006.
In this series, Carolina led only three times and entered Game 4 with no players scoring more than two points – Pittsburgh entered with five. The Hurricanes were swept for the first time since 1989, when the franchise was still the Hartford Whalers and was beaten by the Montreal Canadiens.
Fedotenko scored the Penguins’ first goal with 11 1/2 minutes left when he sneaked behind Ward and tipped in Philippe Boucher’s blast from the point, giving him goals in two straight games.
Pittsburgh took the lead for good on a fluky goal with 1 1/2 minutes left. Talbot’s wrist shot from the slot was deflected by Anton Babchuk, and the puck fluttered over Ward’s catching glove to make it 2-1.
Another miscue by Babchuk – a healthy scratch for the first three games of the series – midway through the second led to the Penguins’ third goal. He turned the puck over near the blue-line to Guerin, and that started a 2-on-1 rush that ended with Crosby’s pretty feed that set up the 16-year veteran’s tap-in.
By that point, the Hurricanes seemed spent after their comeback-fuelled run through the first two rounds, an impressive stretch that included consecutive Game 7 road victories over New Jersey and Boston.
In an effort to keep that run going, they pulled out all the stops – even luring former Pittsburgh Steelers coach Bill Cowher, a Raleigh resident and former N.C. State linebacker, to sound the siren that precedes their pre-game entrance to the ice.
Staal scored on Carolina’s first shot, a wraparound 1 1/2 minutes in for his first goal since scoring twice in Game 4 of the second round.
Notes: Pittsburgh C Evgeni Malkin’s career-best streak of six multipoint games ended. … Carolina RW Tuomo Ruutu, who played fewer than 8 minutes in Game 3 because of a lower body injury, was scratched and was replaced by RW Patrick Dwyer. … Babchuk replaced D Frantisek Kaberle, a healthy scratch.