RALEIGH, N.C. – Sidney Crosby saved his most daring move for after the game: He spurned hockey superstition and hoisted the Prince of Wales Trophy.
If he keeps playing like this, it might not be the only prize the Pittsburgh Penguins’ young captain raises.
The Penguins are headed back to the Stanley Cup finals, clinching a return trip with a 4-1 rout of the Carolina Hurricanes on Tuesday night that finished off a sweep in the Eastern Conference finals. Pittsburgh lost to Detroit last year in a six-game final series.
“We didn’t touch (the trophy) last year, and things didn’t go the way we wanted,” Crosby said. “I thought we’d change it up this year.”
Max Talbot had a goal and two assists, Ruslan Fedotenko and Bill Guerin also scored, and Craig Adams added an empty-netter.
Crosby had two assists to extend his point streak to six games, and Marc-Andre Fleury stopped the final 30 shots he faced in shutting down Carolina during the last 58 minutes.
The Penguins outscored the Hurricanes 20-9 in the series, netted at least three goals in each game, and trailed for a total of 20 minutes, 30 seconds, in advancing to the Cup finals for the fourth time.
“To be real honest, I don’t think it felt easy at all,” Pittsburgh coach Dan Bylsma said.
If the Stanley Cup champion Red Wings beat Chicago in the West finals, it will set up the first title rematch since the Edmonton Oilers and the New York Islanders met in 1983 and 1984.
Pittsburgh – the first runner-up to return to the finals since Edmonton in 1984 – is the first team since the 2000-01 New Jersey Devils to get to the finals in consecutive years. The Red Wings, who lead Chicago 3-1 in the West finals, could join them as soon as tonight.
“For you (media) guys, there’s a lot more story lines” with a Detroit rematch, Crosby said.
“To go through last year was tough, but we’ve got a chance here and we want to make the most of it.”
Eric Staal scored for the first time in the series for the Hurricanes, who lost for the first time in these playoffs when their franchise player notched a goal.
“It just doesn’t feel very nice knowing that tomorrow we’re all done,” he said.
Cam Ward made 21 saves but lost a playoff series for the first time in his NHL career. He had been 5-0 in elimination games for the Hurricanes, who were on the losing end of the handshake line for the first time since 2002, when they lost to the Red Wings in the Cup finals. In their only other playoff appearance in that span, they won the Cup in 2006.
In this series, Carolina led only three times and entered Game 4 with no players scoring more than two points – Pittsburgh entered with five. The Hurricanes were swept for the first time since 1989, when the franchise was still the Hartford Whalers and was beaten by the Montreal Canadiens.
“We just talked about staying in (the game) as long as we possibly could,” coach Paul Maurice said. “You’re down one, you’re down two. We didn’t want to get it to three.”
After Guerin’s goal midway through the second period made it 3-1, the Hurricanes seemed spent after their comeback-fueled run through the first two rounds, an impressive stretch that included consecutive Game 7 road victories over New Jersey and Boston.
In an effort to keep it going, the Hurricanes pulled out all the stops – even luring former Pittsburgh Steelers coach Bill Cowher, a Raleigh resident and former N.C. State linebacker, to sound the siren that precedes their pregame entrance to the ice.
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