Pittsburgh Penguins' Jordan Staal (11) and goalie Marc-Andre Fleury (29) celebrate following Game 4 of the NHL hockey Eastern Conference finals against the Carolina Hurricanes in Raleigh, N.C., Tuesday, May 26, 2009. Pittsburgh won 4-1 to sweep the series. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome)
RALEIGH, N.C. -- The Pittsburgh Penguins are on their way back to the Stanley Cup Final.
The Penguins completed a four-game sweep of the Carolina Hurricanes in the Eastern Conference Finals on Tuesday night with a 4-1 victory at the RBC Center. Ruslan Fedotenko, Maxime Talbot, Bill Guerin and Craig Adams scored for the Penguins, who outscored the Hurricanes 20-9 and dominated play for most of the four games.
Even in Game 4, when the Hurricanes jumped in front on an early goal by Eric Staal and shut down Penguins star Evgeni Malkin, they couldn't find a way to win. Talbot's flutterball shot with 1:29 left in the first period broke a 1-1 tie, and the Hurricanes weren't able to solve Fleury again. Fleury stopped the last 30 shots he faced.
The Penguins, who lost last year's Final to Detroit in six games, are likely to get another shot at the Wings. The Red Wings lead the Western Conference Finals over Chicago 3 games to 1 and can advance by winning one of the last three games, beginning Wednesday night in Detroit. If that happens, it will be the first rematch since 1984, when Edmonton beat the New York Islanders one year after being swept by the Isles.
Crosby said last year's six-game loss to the Wings should pay benefits.
"Just knowing what to expect," he said when asked on Versus how last spring's trip to the Final should help this year. "Hopefully there won't be too much that surprises us. You can talk about experience all you want, but until you go through things, it's hard to learn. Hopefully we had our lesson last year and we can move forward."
Crosby and the Penguins also dispended with a recent tradition by actually touching the Prince of Wales Trophy, awarded to the Eastern Conference champions.
"We didn't touch it last year, and things didn't go the way we wanted to, so might as well switch it our," he said. "We know what we want, but we'll go after that one."
It was a disappointing way for Carolina to end the season. The Hurricanes rallied after a midseason coaching change to make the playoffs, then won seven-game series against New Jersey and Boston -- capturing both Game 7s on the road. But they had no answer for the Penguins' up-tempo style of play and aggressive forecheck, which forced Carolina's defense into numerous errors -- nor were they able to do much against Malkin and Crosby.
"Pittsburgh played very, very well. I don't think we had a lot left in the tank, to be honest with you," Hurricanes coach Paul Maurice said. "We had gone to the well a lot of times and we had spent a lot to get here, and earned the right to be here.
"In reading faces, they're coming back to the bench, even when you score goals to tighten it up, we had spent an awful lot."
It was the first time the franchise has beeswept in a best-of-7 series since 1989, when the then-Hartford Whalers lost in four consecutive games to Montreal.
Despite coming into the game down 3-0 in the series, the sellout crowd at the RBC Center was pumped at the start. After former Pittsburgh Steelers coach Bill Cowher sounded the siren, a pre-game ritual, the Hurricanes needed only 1:36 to get on the scoreboard on their first shot of the game. Staal, a non-factor offensively in the first three games, picked up a pass from Erik Cole behind the net, took two big strides, whirled and stuffed the puck inside the right post before Fleury could react.
It was his 10th goal of the postseason but first of the series; the Hurricanes were 7-0 before Tuesday in games in which Staal had scored a goal.
But the lead lasted less than five minutes. Fedotenko was all alone near the left post and tapped Philippe Boucher's slap pass from the right point into a wide-open net at 6:21 for his sixth goal of the playoffs.
The Penguins then began to dominate play as they did for most of Game 3, using a relentless forecheck to force turnovers and holding Carolina without a shot on goal for nearly nine minutes at one point. But it was a fluke goal that put them ahead to stay.
Pittsburgh Penguins Eastern Conference Champs GearMiroslav Satan broke up a play in his own zone and fed Talbot, who went 1-on-1 with defenseman Anton Babchuk. Talbot's shot from the slot hit Babchuk's stick, floated toward the net, tipped off Cam Ward's glove and plopped over the goal line at 18:31 -- taking a lot of the air out of the crowd and the Hurricanes, who appeared stunned as they skated off after the first 20 minutes.
Neither side was able to convert on an early second-period power play -- in fact, Carolina's best chance in the early going came when Staal burst in during a shorthanded push and was stopped from the lower left circle by Fleury.
The Hurricanes attacked again while shorthanded when Dennis Seidenberg was called for tripping Crosby at 9:43. After the draw, Carolina's Chad LaRose grabbed the puck and took off, getting off a backhander from the left circle that was stopped by Fleury -- but drawing a holding penalty on Guerin at 9:56 that ended the power play.
But Guerin atoned for that by starting and finishing the play that became the backbreaking third goal. Guerin tapped the puck past Babchuk at the right point onto the stick of Crosby, who raced down the left side on what became a 2-on-1 break. Crosby feathered a pass to Guerin, who was charging down the middle and slammed it into the open side past Ward's catching glove at 12:50.
"That third goal was a big one for us," said Penguins coach Dan Bylsma, who took over in mid-February when Michel Therrien was fired. "It gave us some breathing room "
Carolina generated 16 shots in the middle period after getting just five in the first 20 minutes but wasn't able to get anything past Fleury, who played perhaps his best period of the series.
The Hurricanes had an early power-play chance in the third period when Craig Adams was called for holding at 3:40. But Carolina's extra-man unit again failed to produce -- the 'Canes managed just one power-play goal in the series and none in the last three games, a big reason their season ended Tuesday night.
Adams' empty-netter sealed the win, and the RBC Center crowd spent the final minute on its feet saluting the Hurricanes even as the Penguins prepared to celebrate their second consecutive Eastern Conference title.