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Penguins centre Evgeni Malkin scores a first-period goal against the Carolina Hurricanes on Monday night at Mellon Arena. ((Gene J. Puskar/Associated Press))

The Carolina Hurricanes kept Sidney Crosby off the scoresheet for most of the game, but the Pittsburgh Penguins won anyway.

Centre Evgeni Malkin scored a goal and had an assist to pace the Penguins to a 3-2 victory over Carolina on Monday night in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference final at Mellon Arena in Pittsburgh.

The win gives the Penguins a 1-0 lead in the best-of-seven playoff series, with Game 2 set for Thursday night (7:30 p.m. ET) in Pittsburgh.

Brilliant goaltending

The game featured only five goals because of the outstanding efforts by both goaltenders.

Penguins netminder Marc-Andre Fleury made 23 saves, while Hurricanes goalie Cam Ward denied his foes 28 times.

"Fleury came up with some timely saves early to settle them down and give them the opportunity to get going, and once they get going they're a very quick team," Ward said.

Pittsburgh defenceman Philippe Boucher netted the eventual winner late in the third, and winger Miroslav Satan supplied the remaining goal. Boucher added a helper.

"We like to believe we're deep — whoever we dress, we've got some good players that are not playing right now and everybody can come in and help out," said Boucher, who sat out nine of the Penguins' first 13 playoff games.

Forward Chad LaRose and defenceman Joe Corvo replied for Carolina.

Crosby, who leads the NHL post-season with 12 goals and 22 points, didn't register a point until getting an assist on Boucher's power-play marker.

Another slow start for Carolina

The slow start is nothing new to Carolina, which dropped its opening games to both New Jersey and Boston in the first two rounds.

For the first time in 35 years, brothers squared off in a conference final as Carolina's Eric Staal and Penguins centre Jordan Staal competed for their respective clubs. Neither player earned a point.

"I thought our game was there, and Fleury made some huge saves in the first period," Eric Staal said. "We've just got to be better, tighten up and not have breakdowns early. We've got to really grind 'em out in Game 2."

Penguins start strong

Pittsburgh got up on Carolina with two goals in a 1:24 span midway through the first period.

Building momentum off the terrific play of Fleury on a Hurricanes power play, the Penguins opened up a 1-0 lead at 9:17. After serving a holding penalty, Satan jumped on the ice to find a loose puck behind the Carolina defenceman. Satan then raced to a breakaway and beat Ward with a deke.

Pittsburgh didn't waste any time posting its second goal, taking advantage of a bad Carolina line change. Boucher began the play with a pass to Malkin, whose backhand shot eluded Ward to the far side.

Fleury was spectacular in the first, denying all 12 shots, including a quick right-pad save off LaRose late in the period.

The Penguins appeared headed for a 3-0 cushion early in the second. Crosby fed Bill Guerin out in front of the Carolina net, but Ward made a stellar glove save off the Pittsburgh winger.

The Hurricanes finally connected on their first goal at 13:04 of the second, cutting Pittsburgh's lead to 2-1. LaRose took a nifty drop pass from linemate Erik Cole before slipping a shot between Fleury's legs.

Like his counterpart, Ward was spectacular in the second period, making 12 saves — several from point-blank range — to keep Carolina within striking distance.

Ward continued his remarkable play early in the third period, sticking out his right pad to stop Malkin on a breakaway.

However, he let in a questionable goal on a Pittsburgh power play at 11:33, allowing the puck to slide under his left pad following a shot by Boucher.

Fleury saves the day

The Hurricanes then made things interesting while on a power play of their own, pulling Ward in favour of another attacker and a six-on-four advantage. Corvo blasted a point shot that handcuffed Fleury with 1:26 left in the game.

The Penguins goaltender made up for his error, robbing Staal at the side of the net with only 28.7 seconds remaining in the game.

The contest might have cost Carolina forwards Tuomo Ruutu and Cole. Ruutu left in the first period after being leg-whipped by Pittsburgh defenceman Mark Eaton and appeared to be favouring his knee.

Cole, who suffered a broken neck in this same building three years ago, was on the bad end of a knee-on-knee hit from Pittsburgh winger Matt Cooke.

With files from The Associated Press