PITTSBURGH -- "Amazing."
That's how Pittsburgh Penguins captain Sidney Crosby described fellow superstar Evgeni Malkin's game Thursday.
That one word pretty much said it all.
Malkin was simply unstoppable, scoring three times and adding an assist in leading his Pittsburgh Penguins to a 7-4 victory over the Carolina Hurricanes at the Mellon Arena in Game 2 of this best-of-seven Eastern Conference final.
The Penguins now lead the series 2-0 entering Game 3 Saturday night in Raleigh.
A year ago, Malkin was heavily criticized for fading late in the postseason, which ended with the Penguins watching the Detroit Red Wings hoist the Stanley Cup on the Igloo ice surface.
Malkin seems determined not to let that happen again.
"As far as the way he handled it, I don't think he really let it bother him," Crosby said.
Malkin's third goal was of the highlight reel variety. He won the faceoff from Matt Cullen, scooped up the puck, skated behind the Carolina net, then made a spin move at the edge of the crease before scooping the puck behind Cam Ward.
"My first playoff hat trick. It was great," Malkin said.
"But it's just one game. I try to play hard every game."
Crosby was no slouch either, scoring a goal and adding an assist. Coupled with Malkin, Pittsburgh's Dynamic Duo was just too much for the Hurricanes to handle.
Max Talbot, Chris Kunitz and Tyler Kennedy also scored for Pittsburgh, while Chad LaRose, Jussi Jokinen, Dennis Seidenberg and Patrick Eaves replied for the Hurricanes.
The 72 hours between Games 1 and 2 of this best-of-seven Eastern Conference final paid instant dividends for the Hurricanes, who welcomed forward Erik Cole into the mix.
The extra day of healing was a blessing for Cole, who was sidelined by a knee-on-knee hit instigated by Pens forward Matt Cooke in the third period of Game 1 Monday.
Canes coach Paul Maurice was not impressed by Cooke's actions at the time. For his part, Cooke responded by claiming the incident "was not dirty."
On the other hand, the Canes were without forward Tuomo Ruutu, who suffered a lower body injury in the opener, a 3-2 Penguins victory. There were reports that Ruutu might be able to return for Game 3 in Raleigh Saturday.
Crosby opened the scoring at 1:51 of the first, snapping a shot past Ward from the corner of the Hurricanes crease.
Give the visitors credit, however, for answering Pittsburgh's early goal with one of their own.
Just 76 seconds after Crosby had opened the scoring, the Canes responded courtesy of LaRose, who flicked an Eric Staal rebound into the net. It was playoff goal No. 4 for LaRose, one which tied the game 1-1.
The Penguins regained the lead at 8:15 thanks to Malkin, who deposited a Kennedy rebound past Ward to put the hosts up 2-1. Yet once again the Canes needed little time to tie the game as Jokinen potted the equalizer just 25 seconds later to tie the game 2-2.
Carolina then took its first lead of the series at 12:10 on a brutal giveaway by Kris Letang, whose nonchalant clearing attempt was one-timed from the point by Seidenberg past Marc-Andre Fleury for a 3-2 Canes lead.
Talbot knotted the game at 3-3 at 3:11 of the second. Then, just 7.3 seconds before intermission, Kunitz drilled a shot into the top corner, putting Pittsburgh up 4-3.
After Eaves tied the score 4-4 early in the third, Malkin took over the game.
Much to Ward's chagrin.
High up in the press box, Canadian Olympic general manager Steve Yzerman was watching, presumably looking at Fleury and Ward as potential goalies for Vancouver next February.
He certainly picked the wrong night to show up.