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Pens hold off Canes to snatch lead

THE Pittsburgh Penguins survived a late charge from the Carolina Hurricanes to prevail 3-2 in the opening game of their National Hockey League Eastern Conference final series in Pittsburgh on Monday.

Pittsburgh goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury made two important saves in the final 30 seconds to seal the win, after the Hurricanes mounted a spirited fightback late in the game.

Philippe Boucher converted a powerplay at 11:33 in the third to give the Penguins a comfortable 3-1 lead after early goals to teammates Miroslav Satan and Evgeni Malkin.

Satan and Malkin scored less than 90 seconds apart midway through the first period for the Penguins, who are trying to win back-to-back conference championships for the first time since 1991-92.

Boucher's goal was his first in the playoffs since April 12, 2004,

But the Hurricanes hit back with an empty-net goal from Joe Corvo with 1:26 left, sparking a late flurry of forward thrusts as Carolina frantically searched for an equalizer.

With 28 seconds remaining, Eric Staal found himself in front of an open net, but could not control the puck. A weak wrist shot from the Carolina center was duly corralled by a relieved Fleury.

"I was in trouble. It's a good thing for me he didn't get good wood on it," Fleury told reporters.

"They were all over our zone (at the end), it seemed like we couldn't get out. We haven't played in a while so it was good to see the puck and make some saves at the end of the game."

Chad LaRose scored Carolina's opening goal.

"We created a lot of offense but Fleury made some good saves in the first period," Staal said.

"We had a few chances to get it tied up - I'd like to forget about (my chance). We have to do a better job capitalizing on opportunities."

Fleury didn't make as many tough saves as Carolina's Cam Ward, who turned aside 28 shots, but he kept the Hurricanes from getting any offensive flow going in a game when many of their best scoring chances came in the final few minutes. Fleury made 23 saves.

The hapless Hurricanes, taken to Game 7 in both their quarterfinal and semifinal series, may also face the prospect of a depleted lineup going into Game 2 in Pittsburgh tomorrow, after injuries to wingers Erik Cole and Tuomo Ruutu.

Cole came off worse in a bone-jarring knee-to-knee collision with Penguins winger Matt Cooke in the third period, while Ruutu was clipped from behind in the first.

Penguins' captain Sidney Crosby, who had accumulated 21 points - including 12 goals - in the playoffs before Monday's game, was held to just two shots but managed an assist on Boucher's goal.

While the Hurricanes didn't have the opening-game letdown that some teams experience after a series as challenging and emotionally draining as their seven-game second round against top-seeded Boston, they again lacked goals. That's been an ongoing problem for a team that found multiple ways to pull out games in the first two rounds but averaged only 2.36 goals per game - far less than Pittsburgh's 3.46 average.


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