The Pittsburgh Penguins weathered an aggressive start by the Carolina Hurricanes to win Game 3 by a score of 6-2 and take a 3-0 series lead on Saturday in Raleigh, N.C.
Matt Cullen gave Carolina a 1-0 lead just four minutes into the first period but the Penguins replied with a pair of goals from Evgeni Malkin and one from Sidney Crosby in the same period to put Pittsburgh in the lead for good.
Malkin finished with two goals and an assist while Crosby had a goal and two helpers. Pittsburgh coach Dan Bylsma said his two stars gave the team the boost they needed to get through a rough start in a hostile arena.
"There were times where the emotions were high and we felt hemmed in," Bylsma said. "To get both [Crosby and Malkin] going and get those goals, especially in the first period [and] how the building was, to be able to answer back and leave the first period 3-1 was certainly a lift for us."
Hurricanes' high-pressure start
The Hurricanes started the game at a furious pace, wasting no time getting their first crack at Marc-Andre Fleury, by way of an Eric Staal shot just seconds after the opening faceoff.
The pace continued as the Hurricanes rarely let their counterparts control the puck or let them leave the Pittsburgh zone.
The tactics paid off just over four minutes in when Carolina forward Patrick Eaves took the puck behind the Penguins goal and slipped a backhand pass into the low slot for a streaking Matt Cullen, who scored his third goal of the playoffs for an early 1-0 lead.
Two minutes after helping put the Hurricanes ahead, Eaves took a slashing call that cost his team both their momentum and their lead.
The tying tally came thanks to a botched clearing attempt up the middle of the Carolina zone by Hurricanes defenceman Tim Gleason.
Malkin blocked the Gleason attempt, gathered the puck, took two strides into the slot and fired it over the blocker of Hurricanes goalie Cam Ward to knot the game just 32 seconds into the power play.
Penguins' 31-second flurry
Showing poise by fending off a renewed Carolina attack, the Penguins struck twice within 31 seconds to take a two-goal advantage into the first intermission.
Bill Guerin backhanded a saucer pass toward the Carolina net, just in time for Crosby to deflect it over Ward with 43 seconds to go in the period.
With a dozen seconds left, Malkin scored his second of the night, a solo effort where he took the puck low in the Carolina zone, danced across the goal-line and fooled Ward on the short side to complete the two-goal rally.
The Hurricanes were sent to the dressing room reeling, down 3-1 and outshot 16-8.
"We're not as quick as we need to be to defend them," Carolina head coach Paul Maurice said after the game. "We have to manage and move the puck better and faster. Certainly we are having…some quickness issues."
The second period began with the Penguins again playing the aggressor.
With Carolina's Dennis Seidenberg off for a delay-of-game call 4:15 into the second, the best chance came off the stick of Hurricanes.
On a shorthanded two-on-one chance, the Hurricanes' Nick Wallin ripped a wrist-shot that ended up just inches short of goal territory when Fleury bobbled the shot with his glove and the puck rolled harmlessly by the goalpost.
The shot was just one of seven the Hurricanes managed during the second while Ward was forced to make 15 stops to keep the score at 3-1 heading into the third. The Carolina netminder finished with 34 saves.
When trailing after two periods in the 2009 playoffs, the Hurricanes have a dismal 1-7 mark, but apparently no one told Sergei Samsonov. The Carolina forward scored at 1:58 of the third period on a rebound served up by Fleury to make it 3-2.
It would be the last shot to elude Fleury, who finished with 32 saves on 34 shots.
Ward keeps Carolina competitive
The Penguins ratcheted up the pressure after the Samsonov goal but Ward continued to steady his team, first by making a huge save on a Maxime Talbot breakaway and then robbing Chris Kunitz on the doorstep after receiving on a one-timer from Crosby.
A boarding call on Sergei Gonchar gave the Hurricanes two minutes to try to tie the game with 12 minutes to go in the third. However, Carolina couldn't get set up and with 8:30 left to go in the third, Pittsburgh added another nail in the Hurricanes' Game 3 coffin.
Heading over the Carolina blue-line, Malkin dropped a pass to a trailing Ruslan Fedotenko, who put it over the glove of Ward to restore the two-goal lead.
With four minutes to go, the play began to get chippy. Miroslav Satan ended up with an interference penalty, giving the 'Cardiac 'Canes' a chance to work their late-game magic. However, a tripping call to Carolina's Joe Corvo snuffed out the power-play chance with 2:40 remaining.
With a 1:38 left, and Ward pulled in favour of the extra attacker, the Pens' Craig Adams directed a faceoff draw from his own blue-line all the way into the empty net.
"I saw the empty net and just shot it as hard as I could, and I couldn't believe it went in," Adams told the CBC's Elliotte Friedman.
The final goal came off the rush as Guerin fired a backhander that redirected off Carolina defender Gleason and past Ward.
The Penguins have a chance to finish off the Hurricanes in the Eastern Conference final when the two teams meet for Game 4 in Raleigh on Tuesday night (CBC, CBCSports.ca, 7:30 p.m. ET).