Staff photo by Ethan Hyman
RALEIGH — You can see the end from here.
Evgeni Malkin has the Pittsburgh Penguins poised to play for the Stanley Cup and almost single-handedly has finished off the Carolina Hurricanes' inspiring playoff run.
Malkin's two goals and assist led the Penguins to a 6-2 rout of the Canes in Game 3 on Saturday and a 3-0 series stranglehold.
Only two teams in NHL history have come back from a 3-0 series hole. The way Malkin's playing, the 1942 Toronto Maple Leafs and 1975 New York Islanders will have to wait another year for company in their historic club.
Malkin has six goals and three assists in three games in the Eastern Conference Finals to all but vanquish the upstart Canes, who beat New Jersey Devils in Round 1 and Boston Bruins in Round 2 — both with road wins in Game 7.
This series may not get back to Pittsburgh for Game 5 the way Malkin's playing. His pair of first-period goals gave the Penguins a 3-1 lead heading into the third.
Sergei Samsonov gave the Canes a brief glimmer of hope for one more hockey miracle. His goal 1:58 into the third period cut the Penguins' lead to 3-2.
Maybe with a little more magic — a random goal from Jussi Jokinen or an outburst from Eric Staal — the Canes could steal the game and find life in the series.
Malkin just wouldn't let it happen.
After a weak Carolina power play, which produced just one shot, Malkin sped up the ice and cleared space for Ruslan Fedotenko to beat Cam Ward from the high slot.
Malkin had a hat trick in Game 2 and helped subdue the RBC Center in Game 3 after piggybacking a late Sidney Crosby goal at the end of the first period.
The Canes actually led 1-0, on Matt Cullen's goal 4:06 into the game, but the Penguins have responded with three straight goals.
Malkin scored on the power play at 6:50, where the game remained tied until the final minute. Then Crosby and Malkin scored 30.3 seconds apart.
Crosby buried a feed from Bill Guerin with 42.2 seconds left in the first. Crosby beat defender Joni Pitkanen down the ice for a 2-1 advantage.
Malkin didn't give up on the clock. With 11.9 seconds left, he got behind Carolina's defense and converted a dumped puck by Craig Adams into his fifth goal in four periods.
Patrick Eaves, a sudden force on offense, set up Cullen with a move around Pittsburgh's net and fed Cullen for an easy one-timer right in front of goalie Marc-Andre Fleury.
It was the first time in the series the Canes scored first.
It didn't matter. The Pens scored the final three goals — one by Fedotenko's, an unusual empty-netter off a faceoff by Craig Adams and one by Bill Guerin.
The goals from Adams and Guerin came 40 seconds apart in the final 2 minutes, adding insult to the beginning of the end of the Canes' playoff run.