Penguins back in final

MIKE ZEISBERGER, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:12 AM ET

RALEIGH, N.C. -- The whooping was a little quieter, the high-fives a bit softer, the celebration more subdued.

Yes, the Pittsburgh Penguins are happy to be going to the Stanley Cup final again.

Yes, Sidney Crosby and Co. were satisfied with sweeping the Carolina Hurricanes in four games in the Eastern Conference final, putting the exclamation point on the series with a 4-1 victory over the Hurricanes last night.

But there still is a job to do.

There still is a Stanley Cup to win.

A quest they came painfully short in a year ago.

A quest they plan on fulfilling this time around.

Just ask Mario Lemieux.

When it was suggested to the Penguins owner that his team still had some unfinished business ahead of it, he simply nodded his head in acknowledgement. No words were needed. His reaction said it all.

About 50 weeks ago, the Penguins reached the final only to be dumped in six games by the Detroit Red Wings. When the final horn sounded, they stood on the blue line and watched the Wings skate around the Mellon Arena ice -- Pittsburgh's home ice -- all the while wondering what might have been.

"The memory of that right there still gives me chills," Pens forward Jordan Staal said last night. "We still have a lot of bitter feelings about that. We came so close.

"Yes, I would have to say, this time around, we do feel we have unfinished business."

The win allowed the Pens to set up a title showdown against either the Wings or Chicago Blackhawks for all the marbles.

The Red Wings lead the best-of-seven Western Conference final 3-1 heading into Game 5 tonight at Joe Louis Arena. Should the Wings win that game, a Wings-Pens final will start Saturday night in Motown.

If, in fact, the two foes meet again, it would mark the first time that teams faced each other in back-to-back finals since the Edmonton Oilers and New York Islanders did it in 1983 and '84.

"It's a relief to get back," captain Sidney Crosby said. "You don't expect to get back but you certainly work for it. And you appreciate it.

"The guys who were with us last year know this is a special opportunity."

The Eastern Conference final against the Hurricanes proved to be relatively simple for the Pens. With 'Canes goalie Cam Ward struggling throughout and sniper Eric Staal not able to find the back of the net until Game 4, Carolina never could find an answer for the defending conference champions.

"The experience from last year is a bit of a carryover for our confidence," Pens defenceman Brooks Orpik said.

"Last year we got to the final and lost the first two games. Maybe we didn't know how to react ... This year we know how to settle it down instead of it snowballing on us."

Ruslan Fedotenko, Maxim Talbot, Bill Guerin and Craig Adams scored for the Pens.

With the scored tied 1-1 late in the first period, Ward committed the biggest gaffe of the series, one that spelled doom for Carolina.

With just 1:29 remaining, Talbot took a shot from just inside the blue line that deflected off the stick of Anton Babchuk and fluttered through the air. Instead of grabbing the puck, Ward whiffed on it, then could only watch as it dropped into the net, putting the Penguins up 2-1.

It was a goal that will be seen on the blooper reels for a long time.

And it was the final dagger in the hearts of the Hurricanes.

Now the Penguins will wait to see who their opponent will be in the final.

Unlike 12 months ago, they hope to come out on top this time around.


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