Penguins take commanding series lead

Mike Zeisberger, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 11:08 PM ET

RALEIGH - The hottest selling souvenir among Penguins fans in Pittsburgh these days is a black t-shirt with the images of Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby plastered on the front accompanied by the words “Two-Headed Monster.”

Saturday night, the combination of No. 71 and No. 87 once again turned this Eastern Conference final into a horror show for the Carolina Hurricanes.

The Penguins’ dynamic duo has combined for 14 points in the first three games of this series, including nine by Malkin, the biggest reason why the Penguins are just one game away from a return visit to the Stanley Cup final.

With Malkin leading the charge with a pair of goals and an assist Saturday night, the Penguins took a commanding 3-0 lead in this best-of-seven series with a 6-2 victory over the Canes at the RBC Center.

The Penguins, who also got goals from Crosby, Ruslan Fedotenko and Craig Adams, can finish off the Canes Tuesday night in Game 4 here in Raleigh.

“We have a really good team and I think we really want to play in the final,” said Malkin, who has now reeled off six consecutive multi-point games in these 2009 playoffs.

A year ago, the Pens watched as the Detroit Red Wings won the Stanley Cup in six games, hoisting hockey’s Holy Grail right on the ice surface at Pittsburgh’s Mellon Arena.

It’s becoming quite clear that the gut-wrenching experience of seeing that happen in front of their very eyes has made the Penguins hungrier than ever.

“I don’t think we’re looking too far ahead, really,” Crosby said. “We’re still not there yet.”

Maybe not. But they are certainly getting close.

Matt Cullen and Sergei Samsonov replied for the Hurricanes, who have been outshot in every game in this series.

The Penguins took command in this one when Crosby and Malkin scored goals in the final minute of the first period, snapping a 1-1 tie and allowing the visitors to go to the dressing room for the first intermission with a 3-1 lead.

“Those were big,” Crosby said. “It allowed us to quickly get the lead. And we didn’t just accept the one-goal lead. We managed to stretch it into two.”

Malkin, for the record, has seven points in the past two games including five goals.

The Canes welcomed forward Tuomo Ruutu back into the lineup. The feisty forward had been out of the lineup since the early stages of Game 1 when he became entangled with Penguins defenceman Mark Eaton, a play some on the Canes side thought was a slew foot.

Whatever the case, even Ruutu’s return was not enough to offset Malkin’s magic.

The bad blood many thought would carry over from the end of Game 2 never really materialized.

Tempers flared at the end of that game, with the Canes’ Ryan Bayda receiving a match penalty for an intentional attempt to injure, an infraction that carried a one-game suspension pending league review. The incident in question occurred when he cross checked Pens defenceman Kris Letang in the teeth with less than two minutes to go, sparking a melee that featured the Pens’ Miro Satan pounding on the Canes’ Patrick Eaves.

After examining the evidence, the league decided Bayda did not commit an act worthy of suspension, allowing Bayda to escape with just a $2,500 fine.

“I mean, I definitely was happy for a fine and not a suspension,” said Bayda, speaking publicly for the first time since the incident. “That’s what happened. I guess it is what it is. I’d rather pay than sit out a game.

“Plays like that, scrums after the whistle, they happen all the time. There are lots of things that go on and the ref, I guess, decided to give me the match. It’s not in my character to go out looking for that and try to cross check someone in the face.”

Only two teams in NHL history - the 1942 Maple Leafs and 1975 New York Islanders - have rebounded from a 3-0 deficit to win a best-of-seven series.

With Malkin and Crosby playing at this level, it’s doubtful the Hurricanes will join that elite company.

mike.zeisberger@sunmedia.ca


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