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Malkin puts Pens on brink of finals

THE Pittsburgh Penguins moved to the brink of the Stanley Cup finals by routing the Carolina Hurricanes 6-2 in Raleigh, North Carolina, on Saturday.

Evgeni Malkin had two goals and an assist, and captain Sidney Crosby added a goal and an assist for the Penguins, who lead the Eastern Conference finals 3-0.

The defending Eastern Conference champions can sweep the best-of-seven series tomorrow and make a return trip to the National Hockey League finals.

"Everybody wants to play in the finals (again)," Malkin said of the Penguins, who lost 2-4 to the Detroit Red Wings last year.

Ruslan Fedotenko had a goal and an assist, Bill Guerin also scored, and Craig Adams was credited with a late goal after Carolina's Jussi Jokinen won a draw but sent the puck down the ice and into an empty net.

Matt Cullen and Sergei Samsonov scored for the Hurricanes, who haven't lost a playoff series since Detroit beat them in the 2002 Cup finals. In their only other postseason appearance since, they won the Cup in 2006.

History isn't on the Hurricanes' side. Only twice has a team rallied from a 0-3 series deficit to win a series, and it hasn't happened since the New York Islanders did it against Pittsburgh in 1975.

That trend shouldn't be in much jeopardy, as long as the Penguins' young stars keep playing like this.

Malkin has 16 points in six games, including nine points in this series. He followed up his first career NHL playoff hat trick by threatening to do it again with his sixth straight multipoint game. Crosby has 10 points in his last five.

They helped the Penguins pepper Cam Ward for a third straight game. The Carolina goalie turned aside 34 shots but was overwhelmed again by Pittsburgh.

The Penguins, who outshot the Hurricanes 73-53 in the first two games, held a 40-34 shots advantage. Marc-Andre Fleury made 32 saves for the Penguins.

Malkin and Crosby scored 30 seconds apart late in the first to turn a 1-1 tie into a two-goal Penguins lead. Crosby put Pittsburgh ahead to stay when he beat Joni Pitkanen to the net, took a pretty cross-ice pass from Guerin and tapped the puck past Ward with 42.2 seconds left.

Malkin made it 3-1 with 11.9 seconds remaining when he tracked the puck down in the low circle, skated up the goal line and stuffed in the puck for his second tally, drawing chants of "MVP" from the few hundred Penguins fans who infiltrated the RBC Center.

"He's in that zone right now," Crosby said of Malkin. "He's dominant, for sure."

"I think I play my best now," the Russian center added.


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