*Part 4 of a 5-part series reliving the Penguins' 2009 Stanley Cup championship on the 10th anniversary.
After a dramatic Game 7 victory at Washington that propelled the Pens into the Eastern Conference Final, the team had to wait one more day before learning its next opponent.
The Boston Bruins, the team that finished with the best record in the East, hosted the upstart Carolina Hurricanes in a Game 7. The Bruins struck first in the game, but trailed 2-1 entering the third period. Milan Lucic tied the game and the winner-take-all contest went into overtime.
Late in the overtime session Scott Walker played the hero. He batted in a rebound at the crease to lift Carolina over the heavily-favored Bruins and into an Eastern Conference Final showdown with the Penguins.
The Pens drew first blood in Game 1 with a first-period goal from Miroslav Satan. A mere 84-seconds later, Pittsburgh would make it 2-0. In what would become a recurring theme of the series, the goal was scored by Evgeni Malkin. The Pens held on for a 3-2 victory.
But the signature moment of the series - and perhaps the entire 2009 playoff run - occurred in Game 2. It was a back-and-forth affair with the two teams trading leads. As the game neared the halfway point of the third period, the score was 4-4. That's when everything changed.
Chris Kunitz put a puck on net from the high slot. Malkin was at the side of the net. He fought through a stick check to snap the puck into the goal to give the Pens a 5-4 lead. It was Malkin's second goal of the night. But he wasn't finished. In fact, he followed that up with the greatest goal of his career.
With under eight minutes to play in regulation, Malkin took a faceoff in the offensive zone. The faceoff play was appropriately called "The Geno." The strategy was to shoot the puck forward into the corner and have the center retrieve the puck. Malkin executed perfectly.
But he took the play to another level. After retrieving the puck in the corner, he skated around the back of the net and drifted into the dot. With his back facing goaltender Cam Ward, Malkin unleashed a hard, rising, spin-o-rama backhand shot that ticketed the top corner of the net.
"We just played our best game. It's the whole team. We just dominated every shift," Malkin said of the series. "I started slow against Philly and a little bit better against Washington. My best game was against Carolina. I was just more confident and started scoring more."
The goal wasn't just a hat trick tally for Malkin. It locked up Game 2 and, for all intents and purposes, locked up the series. The goal was a deathblow to the Hurricanes.
"In that game he took the series over for us," Pens head coach Dan Bylsma said. "That was all 'Geno.'"
Malkin carried his dominant play into Game 3 at Carolina. He added two goals and three points in Pittsburgh's 6-2 win to take a 3-0 series lead. Malkin had six goals and nine points in those opening three games as the Pens climbed to within one win of returning to the Stanley Cup Final.
"He couldn't be stopped," forward Bill Guerin said. "He had it in his head that he was going to dominate. And that's exactly what he did."
Although Carolina opened the scoring in Game 4, Pittsburgh responded with four unanswered goals to eliminate the Hurricanes and win the Eastern Conference title. For the second year in a row, captain Sidney Crosby, Malkin and Sergei Gonchar accepted the Prince of Wales Trophy.
The Pens would have to wait one more day to find out their opponent in the Stanley Cup Final. That following day a 2-1 overtime victory for Detroit against Chicago clinched the Western Conference title for the Red Wings.
And it set the stage for a rematch of the 2008 Stanley Cup Final.
"We clinched in four games against Carolina. We're watching Detroit and Chicago go at it in the conference finals in the West," forward Max Talbot said. "I remember rooting for Detroit. I wanted payback. I wanted to play them again and beat them. I knew it was going to be different."
Read more for the 2009 Stanley Cup run:
Regular season turnaround