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Pens enjoy easy ride to finals

THE Pittsburgh Penguins booked their return trip to the Stanley Cup finals on Tuesday, sweeping aside the Carolina Hurricanes with a 4-1 victory in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference finals.

The Penguins, who blanked the Hurricanes 4-0 in the best-of-seven series, will meet either defending champion Detroit, which beat Pittsburgh 4-2 in last year's finals, or the Chicago Blackhawks.

Detroit, which leads its Western Conference series 3-1, can set up a rematch against Pittsburgh with a victory over the Blackhawks.

"It's relief we have another opportunity," said Penguins captain Sidney Crosby, who had two assists in the win over Carolina.

"(But) we haven't accomplished what we wanted."

Crosby said he had no preference for Pittsburgh's opponents in the finals. "To go what we went through last year was tough, but we've got a chance here and we want to make the most of it."

He even picked up the Eastern Conference trophy in a change from 2008.

"We didn't touch it last year and things did not go the way we wanted to, so we switched it up," said Crosby.

Eric Staal broke a six-games scoring drought after only 96 seconds to give Carolina a 1-0 lead in the first period, before Pittsburgh took command.

Ruslan Fedotenko, Max Talbot, Bill Guerin and Craig Adams scored for Penguins.

Penguins netminder Marc-Andre Fleury made 30 saves, shutting out the Canes after Staal's tally. Carolina goalie Cam Ward had 21 saves in losing the first post-season series of his career.

The Penguins, who finished the regular season fourth in the Eastern Conference, knocked out Philadelphia, Washington and now Carolina to get to the final. It was a big turnaround for a team once 10th in the conference and struggling to make the playoffs.

"As we built confidence, as we won more games, we changed our goals," said Crosby. The Washington series, which went seven games, was a major boost, he noted.

The Penguins last won the Stanley Cup in 1992, the second of back-to-back titles.

After Staal's early goal, Fedotenko hit back seven minutes later and Talbot made it 2-1 for Pittsburgh, with a cruel bounce off Hurricanes defender Anton Babchuk sending the puck over the glove of Carolina netminder Ward with 1:29 left in the first.

Guerin pushed the score to 3-1 off an assist by Crosby in the second and Adams wrapped it up with an empty netter in the third after another Crosby assist.

"The third goal was a huge goal for us," said Penguins coach Dan Bylsma. "It gave us some breathing room."


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