RALEIGH, N.C. --
The Carolina Hurricanes
are officially out of excuses -- and almost out of time.
Despite the fact they had a full lineup for Game 3 of their Eastern Conference Finals with the return of forward Tuomo Ruutu
on Saturday night, it still wasn't enough against the offensive wizardry of the Pittsburgh Penguins
and, in particular, Evgeni Malkin
and Sidney Crosby
The Penguins simply have the Hurricanes dazed and confused.
Malkin and Crosby again dominated every way imaginable, frustrating the home team to no end. Malkin scored twice, Crosby once, and both added an assist in Pittsburgh's 6-2 win that gave the Penguins a commanding 3-0 series lead. They can wrap up their second-straight trip to the Stanley Cup Final with a win on Tuesday.
Carolina defenseman Tim Gleason
, whose giveaway in the opening period turned into Malkin's game-tying goal, was extremely hard on himself during the postgame media scrum inside a somber Carolina locker room.
"These guys are top-notch players," Gleason said. "They're probably the best players in the League, and you can't completely shut these guys down every time but we have to do a better job of doing it. It all starts with myself -- I'm not doing my job correctly. I have to be more consistent and be better and, hopefully, as a group of six, we can be better than we are right now."
While the 18,789 on hand at the RBC Center were watching the latest edition of the Malkin-Crosby show, goalie Cam Ward
was keeping his team in the game with save after ridiculous save. He finished with 34, including all 15 he faced in the second period -- enabling the Hurricanes to harbor hopes of a comeback from a 3-1 deficit.
But instead of learning from their mistakes, the Hurricanes continue to struggle to get untracked while allowing the Penguins to fly around their zone. The 'Canes took a pair of first-period penalties, giving the Penguins the spark they needed to tie the game at 6:50 on Malkin's first goal. The Penguins never slowed down.
"We took those penalties and gave them life," Carolina center Jussi Jokinen
said. "If we had been able to keep the lead or keep it tied, it might have been a different game. We're still doing the same mistakes and it's costing us games. We have two days' break and then we have to get it done."
The Hurricanes' defense appeared confused and rattled on numerous occasions, backing in when the Penguins began their relentless push and puck pursuit into the Carolina end.
"You never want to give up a goal in the last minute in a big game like this one and we tried to battle back and came within one but it just wasn't meant to be tonight," center Eric Staal
said. "The thing is, we feel good; our legs are there but we're not winning the one-on-one battles in the offensive zone or coming back better through the neutral zone. They wait for their chances, have good sticks and good back pressure and they pick those off passes and go the other way by countering hard -- and they're getting their goals that way."
The frustration started to settle in with less than 35 seconds remaining in the second period when Ward angrily flipped the puck into the left-wing corner after making the last of three straight saves at a time after more than a minute of total domination by the Penguins.
Unless Gleason and his blue-line mates can find a way to slow down the Penguins' potent forecheck, this series won't last much longer.
"I'm disappointed in the way I played but we have to stay positive," Gleason said. "I need to step up my game and we have to do a better job in focusing on Tuesday. It takes four games, and we're not quitting. This isn't going to be a four-game (sweep), so we're going to work our you-know-what-off and clear some things out and be positive and go from there."