RALEIGH, N.C. – Sidney Crosby saved his most daring move for after the game: He spurned hockey superstition and hoisted the Prince of Wales Trophy.
If he keeps playing like this, it might not be the only prize the Pittsburgh Penguins’ young captain raises. The Penguins are headed back to the Stanley Cup finals, clinching a return trip with a 4-1 rout of the Carolina Hurricanes on Tuesday night that finished off a sweep in the Eastern Conference finals.
Pittsburgh lost to Detroit last year in a six-game final series.
“We didn’t touch (the trophy) last year, and things didn’t go the way we wanted,” Crosby said. “I thought we’d change it up this year.”
Max Talbot had a goal and an assist, 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 last 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.
“To be real honest, I don’t think it felt easy at all,” Pittsburgh coach Dan Bylsma said.
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 – the first runner-up to return to the finals since Edmonton in 1984 – 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.
“For you (media) guys, there’s a lot more story lines” with a Detroit rematch, Crosby said. “To go through last year was tough, but we’ve got a chance here and we want to make the most of it.”
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.
“It just doesn’t feel very nice knowing that tomorrow we’re all done,” Staal said.
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.
“We just talked about staying in (the game) as long as we possibly could,” coach Paul Maurice said. “You’re down one, you’re down two. We didn’t want to get it to three.”
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.
“It hit (Babchuk’s) skate, popped up and I lost sight of it for a split second,” Ward said. “Bad break, fluke goal.”
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 a wraparound 1 1/2 minutes in on Carolina’s first shot.
Notes: Pittsburgh C Evgeni Malkin’s career-best streak of six multi-point games ended. … Carolina RW Tuomo Ruutu, who played fewer than eight 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.