The Pittsburgh Penguins trumped the Carolina Hurricanes 4-1 Tuesday night at the RBC Center to complete their sweep of the Eastern Conference Finals. The Penguins have earned the right to play the winner of the Blackhawks-Red Wings series in the Stanley Cup Finals.
Late in the first period it became apparent that the night's events would favor the Penguins.
Maxime Talbot pressured the puck and came up with a steal out of the left point. He motored out to the front of the pack of skaters trailing him, then pulled up and skirted off to the left in the high slot. As he did so, Talbot flicked the puck at the net.
The rubber disk glanced off of Anton Babchuk, who was defending the play for Carolina. The puck then turned into a knuckleball, somersaulting unpredictably. Who knows what did it, but something about the play confused Canes goaltender Cam Ward.
He got some of his glove on the shot, but even so it clumsily fell into the net, easily clearing the crossbar. Pittsburgh 2, Carolina 1.
Adding to the Penguins' psychological edge was the Hurricanes' repeated inability to execute, a series-long issue for the boys from Raleigh. Carolina just could not convert any of the few chances the Pens' stingy defense allowed.
If a Pittsburgh defenseman wasn't blocking a shot, goalie Marc-Andre Fleury was there to stop any bid. Fleury made 30 saves on the night, and the Penguins' defensemen combined to block 14 shots.
Penguins stars Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby were not the center of attention like they had been through the first three games of the series. As a matter of fact, Malkin spent four minutes in the penalty box. But Crosby still helped teammates step up. He assisted goals by Bill Guerin and Craig Adams.
Ruslan Fedentenko kept his productive postseason going by contributing a goal. Even Maxime Talbot, who is not known for putting points on the board, scored a flukey goal.
Give some credit to the Penguins for their four goals. Their forecheck routinely pinned Carolina in their own end for entire shifts starting in the middle of the first period and carrying over throughout the second period. The incessant pressure put on the Canes in their own end forced some costly turnovers that led to scoring chances.
But two of Pittsburgh's goals could have been prevented by better defensive coverage. If Nick Wallin had done a better job covering the weak side of the crease, maybe Ruslan Fedetenko doesn't score that easy goal. If Joni Pitkanen defends that pass from Crosby to Guerin better, Guerin probably doesn't score.
Once the Penguins' lead reached 3-1 late in the game and they could sense the win coming, their defense proved as effective as their explosive, opportunistic offense.
Pittsburgh plugged the neutral zone. At first the Hurricanes tried to dump the puck deep into the Pens' zone and try to get their offense going from there. This counter-attack didn't work because the Penguins got to the puck too quickly and dumped it back out.
Carolina then tried to have Eric Staal carry the puck into the zone. The Penguins all converged on Staal, easily took the puck off his stick and directed it out of their zone.
The Penguins had an answer for everything the Hurricanes had to offer. Pittsburgh's team game is clicking on all cylinders, and that's why they're going to the Stanley Cup Finals.