Shawn P. Roarke | NHL.com Managing Editor
RALEIGH, N.C. -- In the end, the Pittsburgh Penguins had an answer for every question the Carolina Hurricanes posed in the Eastern Conference Finals. As a result, the Penguins finished off a stunningly savage four-game sweep Tuesday night with an efficient 4-1 victory at the RBC Center.
Pittsburgh now awaits the winner of the Western Conference Finals to find out who it will play in the Stanley Cup Final. Detroit, which beat Pittsburgh in six games in last year's Final, needs just one more victory against Chicago to win that best-of-7 series. Game 5 is Wednesday night.
Carolina, which showed an unwavering ability to withstand the best punches offered by the opposition in the first two rounds, was knocked down repeatedly throughout this series by the Penguins, who outscored Carolina 20-9 in the four games.
"There are no flukes in a seven-game series," Carolina coach Paul Maurice said. "(Pittsburgh) deserved to win."
The Penguins deserved to win because they were the team that dictated play throughout this series, even when the Cardiac 'Canes showed some inkling of the magic that carried them through upsets over third-seeded New Jersey and second-seeded Boston in the first two rounds. Pittsburgh never buckled, never wavered in its mission on those rare occasions when Carolina dominated play.
"We forced them to play our way," Pittsburgh defensemen Brooks Orpik said. "We played Philadelphia, Washington and Carolina (in the playoffs) and to me it was three different styles of teams, but we didn't do much adjusting I don't think. We made those teams play the way we wanted to play."
Pittsburgh did that again Tuesday night.
Carolina's Eric Staal scored just 96 seconds into the game to get the RBC Center crowd in full throat, a din designed to make opponents buckle. But Pittsburgh just stayed the course.
At 8:21, Ruslan Fedotenko scored the tying goal, redirecting in a Philippe Boucher shot that was going wide of the net. Then, with just 1:29 left in the first period, Maxime Talbot scored what proved to be the game-winner when his shot rolled up the stick of defensemen Anton Babchuk and floated over the glove of Cam Ward, who lost sight of the fluttering puck.
"I blocked the shot with my stick and it kind of like deflected off my stick and went high over our goalie and went in," said Babchuk, who was inserted into the lineup after being a healthy scratch for the past five games. "I don't really know how it happened and it was a funny goal. It was a bad time for that to happen."
It certainly was -- because, just like that, Pittsburgh had a lead it wouldn't relinquish. The Penguins added a second-period goal by Bill Guerin and an empty-net tally by Craig Adams -- both assisted by Sidney Crosby, by the way -- to make sure that the 30-save performance by Marc-Andre Fleury was sufficient.
Tuesday's first period was eerily similar to the first period in Game 3, when Carolina's Matt Cullen scored just 4:16 into the game to give the home team a lead only to have Evgeni Malkin answer 1:44 later. Then Crosby and Malkin scored 31 seconds apart in the period's final minute to give Pittsburgh a 3-1 lead that would grow into a 6-2 victory that all but sapped the fight from the Hurricanes.
"They battled at us in every game, came at us in every game, and they never quit," Pittsburgh coach Dan Bylsma.
But the 'Canes could never find the answers for the red-hot Penguins, who have won eight of their last nine playoff games. On Tuesday night, they contained Malkin, who had 6 goals in the first three games -- only two have support players like Fedotenko, Talbot and Adams score. Carolina outshot Pittsburgh 31-25 in Game 4 -- the first time that happened in the series -- but saw Fleury turn in his most spectacular game.
When the domination was complete, after the handshakes had been exchanged and after the Penguins had an impromptu and unexpected party with the Prince of Wales Trophy, Carolina's Scott Walker was still shaking his head at what had happened to his team -- and his dream of playing in the Stanley Cup Final.
"You can tell they won it last year and they wanted a chance to do it again," Walker said, talking first about the conference championship and then the Stanley Cup. "I wouldn't want to be facing them if I was on one of the other two teams (remaining in the West).
"They're playing at a high level right now and their experience is definitely something that gives them confidence. They're playing well."
|Eric Staal (10) ASST: Erik Cole (5), Sergei Samsonov (3)|
1 - 0 CAR
|Ruslan Fedotenko (6) ASST: Philippe Boucher (3), Max Talbot (2)|
1 - 1 Tie
|Max Talbot (4) ASST: Miroslav Satan (5)|
2 - 1 PIT
|Bill Guerin (7) ASST: Sidney Crosby (13)|
3 - 1 PIT
|EN - Craig Adams (3) ASST: Sidney Crosby (14), Max Talbot (3)|
4 - 1 PIT
|Evgeni Malkin Holding the stick against Chad LaRose|
|Jussi Jokinen Cross checking against Craig Adams|
|Evgeni Malkin Roughing against Rod Brind'Amour|
|Dennis Seidenberg Hi-sticking against Evgeni Malkin|
|Dennis Seidenberg Tripping against Sidney Crosby|
|Bill Guerin Holding against Matt Cullen|
|Craig Adams Hooking against Matt Cullen|
|Joe Corvo Hooking against Sidney Crosby|
|Chad LaRose Tripping against Jordan Staal|